Archive for June, 2008

What? Horton Hears A Who!

June 12, 2008

I just read my kids this book as their bedtime story and had an idea:  what if people all over the world could somehow use their voices, in unison, to be heard?  Might we stop or prevent tragedy if we could hear from people on a regular basis.  In the book, the people on the speck save themselves by shouting, in unison, “We are here!  We are here!  We are here!”  In the real world, I’ve wondered how the world could be monitored so that if a tragedy was occurring somewhere, say another Rwanda, it could be somehow proven to be occurring and somehow the fact that people were watching would somehow provide deterrence.  The idea is similar to the cameras being placed at so many intersections now; if you know that someone is watching, aren’t you less likely to do something wrong?  The answer is yes, but the practical application is fairly challenging:  It seems to me that we’d need low-level satellites taking pictures or movies of virtually every spec of the planet inhabited by humans. 

What if we change the problem around and, instead of looking for bad things happening, we instead look for people to affirm their existence?  Could we somehow use the internet?  Could we somehow measure the “volume” of people telling the rest of the world, “We are here!”  Could we then somehow demonstrate, with data, when certain groups of people are no longer with us?  Or maybe when people tell us they are here, they can either say “We are here!” or “We need help!”  Now there would be three grades of response:  the best is “We are here!”; the next best is “We need help!”; the worst is no response at all. 

The skeptic would say, “how can people tell us they are here?  What can they do?”  Seems like the internet is part of the answer.  What if people could “check in” somehow every day on the internet?  Kind of like a collaborative affirmation of their existence.

This discussion reminds me of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, a website where people can engage a collaborative workforce to accomplish a “Human Intelligence Task”.  I first learned of this service when James Gray, a well-known Silicon Valley engineer, was lost at sea in 2007.  The Mechanical Turk was put to work, starting with the collection of satellite images of the ocean around places where Gray was thought to have last been.  According the New York Times, “Once the satellite’s images were received by imaging experts on Thursday, Digital Globe engineers worked on making them accessible to engineers at Amazon, who divided them into manageable sizes and posted them to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk site, which allows the general public to scrutinize images in search of various objects.” 

Large scale, collaborative affirmation of existence.  Hmmm.  Kind of like prayer?  Meditation? 

Kind of like Spencer Tunick?

Fascinating New Site – Richard Saul Wurman

June 8, 2008

My friend Susi Watson just clued me into Richard Saul Wurman’s new site, 192021, which is about:

  • 19 cities
  • 20 million or more in population
  • 21st century

It’s visually very impressive.