Collective intelligence and satellite technology in the search for Jim Gray
February 7th, 2007

(Thanks, Mark! Via Worldchanging)

In the past, Smartmobs has blogged about Microsoft scientist Jim Gray’s work on the economics of distributed computation. Now, a collective effort in Silicon Valley and around the world is applying some of those principles to finding Gray, who has been missing at sea. If you want to help search for him, click here:

But the friends and colleagues of Jim Gray were not ready to give up. Leveraging nearby Silicon Valley’s collective technological resources, a concerted response by Amazon, Google, Microsoft and NASA has permitted a continued search. Teams were created to initiate searches, harnessing expertise from areas like distributed computing and image processing. DigitalGlobe’s Quickbird satellite was tasked to acquire imagery of the region, but though their help was timely, they faced scattered clouds which could obscure the boat from view. Their high resolution imagery was complemented by imagery acquired by a NASA ER-2 aircraft aircraft which was already scheduled to complete a training mission, and so agreed to capture imagery to aid the search.

With the tremendous amount of data acquired and processed, Amazon engineers working on the project developed a method to split the images into manageable pieces, then upload them to the Mechanical Turk that is set up for repetitive tasks that require people — or as they say, “artificial artificial intelligence.” With a bit of training in how to differentiate clouds, land, open ocean and objects like boats, anyone can log on and scour the imagery for signs of the missing boat, and indeed they have, with over 12,000 people inspecting 530,000+ images. Each page contains several images and radio buttons where users note whether the image should be forwarded to an expert for further review, or contains nothing of interest.

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