Social Media for Social Good

Imagine if there were 300 million police officers on the road everyday.  How easy would it be to track down a criminal?  How quickly could we find a missing child?  Social Media has the potential to fill the gap!

Monday December 7th, 2009 The New York Times published this article; With Lure of Cash, M.I.T. Group Builds a Balloon-Finding Team to Take Pentagon Prize written by John Markoff.  The intro to the article caught my attention as another example of how social and collaborative networks have the capacity to leverage exponentially the power of information:

A group of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology edged out about 4,300 other teams on Saturday in a Pentagon-sponsored contest to correctly identify the location of 10 red balloons distributed around the United States.

The contest, which featured a $40,000 prize, was organized by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, in an effort to develop new ways to understand how information is disseminated through social networks.

The winning group, a small team at the M.I.T. Media Laboratory Human Dynamics Group led by a physicist, Riley Crane, took just eight hours and 56 minutes to complete the challenge.”

Essentially, using an accuracy based cash reward system and a social networking website the team was able to gather intelligence as to the location of the balloons all accros the country in just under 9 hours.

Now imagine the potential to utilize social networks to locate a missing child or a wanted criminal!  Imagine the locations pinpointed by the network users being fed into a mapping application, the validity of the locals could then be statistically tested for accuracy.  It would literally be like having an entire population of volunteer police officers!

Having said that, the motivation in this case was cash so that lends the question would the volume and accuracy of response be comparabe if the motive was altruism?  A team of DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) scientists tested this question and found that “In the final results all of the motives seemed to be effective,”

With that, my only remaining question is “When are we going to put this into action?”

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About John

“John Abele is a pioneer and leader in the field of less-invasive medicine, For more than four decades, John has devoted himself to innovation in health care, business and solving social problems.” He is retired Founding Chairman of Boston Scientific Corporation. John holds numerous patents and has published and lectured extensively on the technology of various medical devices and on the technical, social, economic, and political trends and issues affecting healthcare. His major interests are science literacy for children, education, and the process by which new technology is invented, developed, and introduced to society. Current activities include Chair of the FIRST Foundation which works with high school kids to make being science-literate cool and fun, and development of The Kingbridge Centre and Institute, a conferencing institution whose mission is to research, develop, and teach improved methods for interactive conferencing: problem solving, conflict resolution, strategic planning, new methods for learning and generally help groups to become “Collectively intelligent.” He lives with his wife and two dogs in Shelburne, Vermont.”

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