Find Jim Gray, Web 2.0 Style

I first saw this post over on TechCrunch and thought it was one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a while:

When famous computer scientist Jim Gray went missing a few days ago, the coast guard launched a large scale search that found absolutely nothing. On Thursday, they gave up.

Then Amazon stepped in. They arranged for a satellite sweep of the area and stored the images on their S3 storage service. They then created a task on their Mechanical Turk service to allow volunteers to scan the images to look for the boat. It’s a tough task – the boat would only be about six pixels in size in an image, and there was a lot of cloud cover obscuring large parts of the area scanned. But volunteers are pouring in to help out.

If you’re not up on the Amazon Mechanical Turk, I’m not really in the mood to explain, so I point you to wikipedia instead.

The Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) is a beta web service by, part of the collection of Amazon Web Services. Mturk enables computer programs to co-ordinate the use of human intelligence to perform tasks which computers are unable to do. Requesters, the human beings that write these programs, are able to pose tasks known as HITs (Human Intelligence Tasks), such as choosing the best among several photographs of a storefront, writing product descriptions, or identifying performers on music CDs. Workers (called Providers in Mechanical Turk’s Terms of Service) can then browse among existing tasks and complete them for a monetary payment set by the Requester.

This is such an amazing use of technology, the collective, ubiquitous broadband, satellite imagery, and imagination. I really hope they (we!) find him.

Update: The link to the Amazon MTurk page


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