I recently came across this collaborative poetry project. It is a simple website where the whole world can share one magnetic poetry kit. I really like this mix: 20% collaboration, 30% nerdness, and 50% creative poetry.

Now creating short “poems”, as beautiful and worthwhile as it may be, is unlikely to solve any of the world’s problems. But could a similar approach be harvest to do something useful?

When it comes to sharing computer resources, there are projects such as SETI@home, which combine the computational powers of people worldwide to create a supercomputer to work on a common goal. The basic idea is: your computer downloads small data chunks. Runs some analysis on the data, and sends the results back to the server (after a few hours/days) to get some more data to work on.

Can you think of any intellectual problems, which

(i) could not be easily solved by a computer

(ii) require human “creativity” or at least human thinking

(iii) could be broken up into small chunks, which can be solved by an intelligent person in anything between a few minutes and a few hours/days

(iv) where the “solution” to each chunk is somehow easily verifiable (ideally by a machine).

Then one could create  such as joint project for “real” problems:

Each evening, before you go home, you could “download” a small sub-problem to work on over the next few hours or whenever you have time. Once finished you then upload a “solution” and download the next problem. [These could, e.g., be a simple but non-trivial Lemma as part of a big proof.]
Wikipedia (… this is the first time I looked at the Wikipedia article about Wikipedia. Is there a Brockhaus entry in the Brockhaus?) is probably the best example for what a joint intellectual project can do. But this project would be different in nature. Ideally, you would not need to be online to think about your small chunk and the final output would be the solution to a real problem.

Just as SETI@home (and similar projects) helps to avoid that any CPU cycles “go to waste”, this project would in a sense help to avoid that brain capacities “go to waste”.