Two days ago, my friend John sent me this Ajaxian article about Google Image Labeler. It’s a real-time collaborative game (using ajax), where you work with an online partner (random & hidden) to look at the same image and decide on some labels/tags together.
Note that this game is more productive than you might think. As you “play” this game, you and your partner are actually helping Google’s search engine make sense of images it encounters. If you find this idea facinating (just like me), remember these words: Human Computing.
To explain more about human computing, Google recently invited the best person in this field, Luis von Ahn, an assistant professor in the Computer Science Department at Carnegie Mellon University. Besides his string of academic credentials, he’s well-sought after by corporations worldwide for his groundbreaking reseach, patents and applications. This is the same person who helped invent the CAPTCHA system you see everywhere on various online forms as a means to circumvent spam (you know.
As the folks on Ajaxian noted, “in one year, 9 billion people-hours are spent playing Solitaire; it took 20 million human-hours to build the entire Panama Canal – no wonder the professor talks about finding ways to optimise human cycles. Also, note that a single 90-second game will probably yield somewhere between 50 and 200 labels – admittedly some of them are rushed, but how long would it take to gather that info in most web apps? The professor speculates that Google could label all of its images in two months.”
Aside: Even systems like CAPTCHA aren’t completely free from hacks (abit difficult ones): Optical character recognition (OCR) already works on some levels of captcha (See PWNtcha), and spam house have spawned captcha farms where lowly-paid people are basically made to fill captcha forms all day.