The Power of the Internet

Being a pilot myself, I my sympathies go out to Steve Fossett and his family, since he has been missing since September 3rd. It is presumed that his plane crashed somewhere in Nevada. He is an intrepid aviation adventurer and it's unfortunate that he is most likely gone. Still, a glimmer of hope exists for those who continue to help search for his plane. This tragedy has resulted in increased popularity of a very powerful concept- that of using the Internet and the power of people to make otherwise insurmountable tasks possible. Richard Branson, friend of Steve Fossett, asked Google if they could help find Steve, and Google answered the call. Google Earth is known by many as one of the 'coolest' programs on the Internet- covering a virtual globe with relatively up to date aerial (and satellite) imagery of the Earth. You can then browse around and look at anything you want from an aerial view. Having worked in GIS myself, I know the power of a system like this to be quite substantial and it holds great promise for future innovations including 3D buildings, terrain, and 3D pictography- allowing you a virtual view from nearly any perspective. The problem with using Google Earth to search for Steve Fossett's plane is that the images are typically several months or years old. Fortunately, with Google and Richard Branson on your side, you can pull some strings and get the latest aerial shots for review. Then, using a very cool technology from Amazon called Mechanical Turk, anyone on the Internet can volunteer to review bite-sized chunks of aerial photography for evidence of a plane crash and help with his search. This technology is used to allow humans to accomplish tasks that still can't be completed by a computer as well or as efficiently as a human. As a bonus, many of the tasks on Mechanical Turk will pay you for your time- performing anything from translations to image recognition, to search engine categorization- still tasks that a computer has difficulty doing. The power of the Internet comes to bear to help save a life. While the odds of Steve Fossett's safe return are very slim, my prayers still go out to him and his family. Hopefully this tragedy will at least result in increased use of the Internet to let people help in future searches, perhaps saving more lives.


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