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Published on October 26th, 2012 | by EJC


The Limits Of Crowdsourcing Crisis Information And The Promise Of Advanced Computing

This article was written by Patrick Meier and originally published at iRevolution on 21 October, 2012. Republished with permission.


First, I want to express my sincere gratitude to the dozen or so iRevolution readers who recently contacted me. I have indeed not been blogging for the past few weeks but this does not mean I have decided to stop blogging altogether. I’ve simply been ridiculously busy (and still am!). But I truly, truly appreciate the kind encouragement to continue blogging, so thanks again to all of you who wrote in.

Now, despite the (catchy?) title of this blog post, I am not bashing crowd-sourcing or worshipping on the alter of technology. My purpose here is simply to suggest that the crowdsourcing of crisis information is an approach that does not scale very well. I have lost count of the number of humanitarian organizations who said they simply didn’t have hundreds of volunteers available to manually monitor social media and create a live crisis map. Hence my interest in advanced computing solutions.

The past few months at the Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) have made it clear to me that developing and applying advanced computing solutions to address major humanitarian challenges is anything but trivial. I have learned heaps about social computing, machine learning and big data analytics. So I am now more aware of the hurdles but am even more excited than before about the promise that advanced computing holds for the development of next-generation humanitarian technology.

The way forward combines both crowdsourcing and advanced computing. The next generation of humanitarian technologies will take a hybrid approach—at times prioritizing “smart crowdsourcing” and at other times leading with automated algorithms. I shall explain what I mean by smart crowdsourcing in a future post. In the meantime, the video above from my recent talk at TEDxSendai expands on the themes I have just described.

About the Author:

Patrick Meier (PhD) is an internationally recognized thought leader on the application of new technologies for crisis early warning, humanitarian response and resilience. Presently serves as Director of Social Innovation at the Qatar Foundation’s Computing Research Institute. Previously co-directed Harvard’s Program on Crisis Mapping & Early Warning and served as Director of Crisis Mapping at Ushahidi. Patrick holds a PhD from The Fletcher School, a Pre-Doctoral Fellowship from Stanford & MA from Columbia. He was born & raised in Africa. Follow on Twitter: @patrickmeier 

Photo: SandiaLabs

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