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luke's blog

Tomnod Award at GeoInt 2011

Tomnod recently attended the 2011 GeoInt conference in San Antonio, TX.  We checked out the mind-boggling technologies and amazing applications that are advancing geospatial analytics and forging integrated intelligence.  We met industry leaders from companies like Digital Globe, Geo-Eye, ManTech, BAE Systems, Booz Allen Hamilton.  We learned about how NGA, USGS and NASA as well as the miliary and intelligence communities are developing apps, online platforms and new collaborations to improve their response to global challenges like natural disasters and drug smuggling.

The main reason for the trip was that we were being honored with the USGIF Academic Research Award, recognizing our collaboration with UCSD and National Geographic to engage thousands of "virtual explorers" to help us in our quest to find the lost tomb of Genghis Khan. Tomnod co-founder, UCSD research scientist and National Geographic Explorer, Albert Lin and I picked up the award in front of a huge auditorium of thousands of the smartest people in the geospatial intelligence community. It was a great honor for us to be recognized by USGIF and to share the stage with the other amazing award winners.

Check out the video of all the award winners below.   Albert and Luke's part starts at 5:40 -- you've got to hear the triumphant music they play when we walk out!  

Amnesty thanks the Standby Task Force for contributing to Tomnod's Crisis Mapper

Tomnod recently collaborated with Amnesty International and Digital Globe to engage crowdsourced monitoring of human rights violations in cities in Syria.  To recruit a crowd of dedicated volunteers, we turned to Patrick Meier and the Standby Task Force - an amazing online community of volunteers and crisis mappers.  Their overwhelming response helped to analyze thousands of satellite images covering over 100km2 and produced thousands of inputs.  When these inputs were filtered using Tomnod's CrowdRank technology, the resulting consensus locations pointed to numerous relevant features that were of help to Amnesty's analysis group and their team on the ground.  

Tomnod is proud to have worked with such dedicated and motivated crowd and the team at Amnesty were so pleased that they offered the following words of thanks to the Standby Task Force:

 

Dear SBTF volunteers–

Though there is much left on our end to be done in relation to the Syria pilot project, I wanted to take a moment and write to express deep gratitude.

The SBTF and Amnesty International are natural partners. Amnesty operates under the principle that—given the tools—people everywhere can act in concert to protect the fundamental rights and inherent dignity of each of us.

In AI’s 50 year history, the methods and means by which we agitate as a crowd has evolved beyond community-based Amnesty chapters, to a truly global movement that is no longer artificially separated into groups of activists/advocates and the people whose rights are at risk.

Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees all people the right to share in scientific advancement, and its benefits. Technology has always changed our world. But represented in your work and efforts is a truly new paradigm of social action for social good…one that at once transcends the structural, geographic, and economic barriers that have segmented the human family for too long, and also leverages the power of Article 27 back onto itself in a reinforcing model of technological innovation and group action.

Sadly, as we know, our efforts in this project will not bring about the end of the widespread and systematic abuses occurring in Syria. Indeed, over the course of the project, the situation on the ground as evolved for the worse, and large swaths of the country are effectively crimes scenes. The collection of evidence—and the path to justice—will be a long term endeavor.

But the fruits of the time and energy you committed to in the Syria pilot will have lasting and permanent implications for how AI and other human rights watchdogs approach documentation of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Through this pilot, we have already learned a great deal about the immense leverage social computation can have in the fight for human rights. I look forward to working with you and our other partners on this pilot to incorporate those valuable lessons into future plans.

And above all else, I look forward to the opportunity to work with you in the very near future, and to great effect.

On behalf of Amnesty International—our staff, our volunteers, our activists, and our partners in Syria and everywhere else we can and must collectively make a difference with this approach—I want to express profound gratitude. And I personally and humbly give thanks.

In Solidarity,

Scott Edwards
Advocacy, Policy, and Research Department
Amnesty International, US

Amnesty founder predicts crowdsourcing in 1977

I've been listening to a fascinating BBC World Service Documentary on the History and Future of Amnesty International.

One particular quote struck me as being extrodinarily relevant to how Tomnod is contributing to the way we observe our planet.  It comes from one of Amnesty's founding fathers, the lawyer, politician and Irish revolutionary, Seán MacBride:

"I think that there has been a gradual shift in the center of gravity of power from secret government to public government and to public opinion.  In my view, public opinion now really dominates policy in the world.  The mass media has enabled public opion to be informed: it's impossible now for a government to do something secretly."      listen (starts at 2:10)

Prescient words from 1977!  

The rise of crowdsourcing and the ability for everyone around the world to watch and be involved with how discoveries and decisions are made make these words truer now than ever.

World's Eye on Syria

Tomnod's mission is to help the world solve the world's problems. A part of the world that's having problems right now is Syria. Amnesty International reports human rights violations such as imprisonment of protesters and military checkpoints in Syrian cities like Hama, Homs and Latakia. One way that organizations like Amnesty can monitor human rights violations is to look at satellite images of areas of concern: but there's so much data and so little time. This is where Tomnod comes in. Thanks to the inspiration and organization of @PatrickMeier and the generous donation of current imagery from Digital Globe, Tomnod has developed a crowdsourcing platform where citizens search Syria for features like
  • crowds of protestors,
  • checkpoints and
  • military vehicles.
We've engaged the help of an amazing group of dedicated contributors from the Standby Volunteer Task Force to analyze thousands of images and tag these features. Then Tomnod's CrowdRank algorithms coalesce the crowd's input and identify priority sites to send to those that can take action. Our goals for this pilot project are to determine the features that we can identify in remote sensing imagery, assess the confidence that we can obtain from our crowdsourced contributors and figure out the best way to deliver the results to assist international aid agencies. As we develop this methodology, we plan to make these crowdsourcing solutions publically available and really help the world solve the world's problems.

Tomnod at the Senate!

Last week, Tomnod took it all the way to the Capitol as I gave a demonstration of our crowdsourced approach to disaster response at the US Senate! The National Science Foundation (NSF) set up an expo of new technological solutions for disaster and hazards response. Our our good friend and partner Ron Eguchi of ImageCat kindly invited me along to present our work to the gathered politicians, bureaucrats and scientists. I told them all about the Tomnod Disaster Mapper that we used to engage help from over 200 people to identify buildings that suffered damage from the Christchurch earthquake. I also showed off our cool quad-copter: an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) that fits in a backpack or, in this case, my carry-on luggage: but watch out for airport security! We were invited by Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senator Bill Nelson (D-NV) gave the welcoming remarks. My favorite quote from Sen. Nelson: "I applaud you scientists for seeking the truth through facts, not fiction". If only everyone in DC did the same!

Crowdsourcing Disaster Relief with the Tomnod Disaster Mapper

Over the past year, the city of Christchurch, New Zealand has been assaulted by a series of destructive, lethal earthquakes. The most devastating occurred on February 22 when a 6.3-magnitude quake struck just south-east of the Central Business District. The tremors upset the subterranean water table causing widespread liquefaction, caused billions of dollars of damage to thousands of buildings and resulted in the tragic loss of 181 lives. While the immediate danger seems to have passed, the rebuilding effort goes on. One of the biggest challenges is to compile a complete and precise catalog of each building that has been damaged. To assist with this effort, Tomnod has joined GEO-CAN -- a partnership with the Government of New Zealand, the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, ImageCat and the World Bank -- and released the Tomnod Disaster Mapper. You can use the Disaster Mapper to view ultra-high resolution aerial imagery, taken 2 days after the February quake, and compare it to how the city looked before the disaster struck. Join people around and identify buildings in Christchurch that have been damaged or destroyed by the quake. Help map the extent of the damage and contribute to the reconstruction effort. Try the Tomnod Disaster Mapper: http://tomnod.com/geocan/

Tomnod a Webby Award honoree!

One of Tomnod founder's recent projects has been honored at the Webby Awards. The Webby's -- "the online Oscars" -- annually recognize excellence on the Internet. Tomnod founder's recent collaboration with National Geographic and UCSD to crowdsource the search for the tomb of Genghis Khan has been listed as an honoree in the Science category. We're extremely proud to receive this honor and acknowledge the excellent team that contributed to this project: National Geographic Digital Media, especially Amy Bucci and Susan Poulton, Digitaria, a world-leader in digital interaction and design, The Valley of the Khans project, especially our Mongolian team-mates, UCSD researchers Andrew Huynh, Gert Lanckriet, Josh Lewis, Derek Lomas and David Vanoni, ... and the thousands of online explorers who contributed to the search!

Crowdsourcing the Tomb of Genghis Khan

The Washington Post featured a story today about the Tomnod founders work on using crowdsourcing to search for the tomb of Genghis Khan. Working with National Geographic and UC San Diego, we traveled into the Mongolian wilderness to follow up on discoveries made by thousands of citizen scientists who examined satellite images online. The expedition made numerous archaeological finds brings us closer to unraveling the mystery around the greatest conqueror the world has ever seen. A Mongolian burial mound Read the full story or participate in the online expedition at: exploration.nationalgeographic.com/mongolia/ Tomnod now offers similar online crowdsourcing platforms, image tagging interfaces and CrowdRank technology for collecting the input of thousands of online contributors and aggregating them into real discoveries.