Thinking About The Search for Jim Gray

February 04, 2007

[update: there's a great new post on about this. -cb ]

I spent some time today searching for sailboats in satellite imagery, looking for signs of computer scientist Jim Gray. The story is covered here.

JimgrayamazonThe significance of using this technology to do this work is obvious. Using satellite imagery to find a particular lost person is a dramatic, symbolic moment indicating some maturation of the approach — I can only hope that it will be applied on a larger scale in the coming years.

Likewise I was so deeply impressed by the Katrina PeopleFinder project, and I am eager to see extensions of this type of "humanitarian-tech" project. It just seems that there are so many people who are willing to help do data entry or pattern recognition from their home as volunteers ... not to mention the 34,153 geek-brain-hours wasted on programming .ASP shopping carts or similar byte-drivel every day ...

And, without being critical of the people involved in setting this up (seriously, cheers to those involved in getting this going!) I think it is interesting to note that the person we are looking for is a famed computer scientist. Besides the contextual irony — he had a lot to do with making this search possible — we should be conscious of the need to broaden our collective altruism. There are so many people that right now could benefit from having a project dedicated to analyzing their needs from above. They just don't make the newspaper when they disappear.