Doing calculations has long been seen as a faculty only reserved for man. We now have computers around us to prove otherwise. However, it is hard for people in general to understand the real essence of a computer, its ability to compute and the underlying logic structure. How is writing an e-mail accomplished by very simple additions and subtractions?
Student Joris Slob explored the possibility for humans to be part of the computation of a computer. In fiction concepts like these have been posed before. This study, however, looks into the matter using experimental techniques and puts this question into a historical perspective.
The Human Processor: Extending Human-based Computation to the Logic Level
Joris used the architecture of all modern computers in his setup, but examined whether it is possible to replace one of its crucial components, the Arithmetic Logical Unit or ALU, with unsuspecting humans. The basic calculations of the ALU were translated into a simple color recognition task for people, and their actions were interpreted as ALU’s operations. His device is in essence a universal computation machine driven by actions of human that are not aware of their role in the device.
This work study serves as a proof of concept showing that human-based computation can be extended to the logic level, achieving computational completeness. The accompanying paper also discusses the inherent fallibility of humans and its consequences for such a system.