Missing Scientist Sparks Massive Web Search

(New York City. Monday morning, nine degrees) — A veteran Coast Guard officer says it is the biggest civilian rescue effort he has ever witnessed. That comment is testament to the stature and humanity of the missing person, and a measure of how far the Internet has advanced. An extraordinary collaboration between Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Sun, NASA, and many other tech companies and agencies, techies and civilians and bloggers is underway to find Microsoft scientist Dr. Jim Gray. Although Gray was lost on the Pacific Ocean, most of the searching is being done on the Internet.

Jim Gray missing Microsoft scientistLast Sunday the highly accomplished, well respected, and infinitely connected computer scientist set out on his sailboat in the Bay area to spread the ashes of his mother.  He never returned. The coast guard searched for four days with helicopters and planes and found nothing. Gray’s friends and colleagues – he seems to have plenty of both – will not give up.

At the heart of the search is Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, an artifical intelligence mechanism that requires human interpretation. Amazon pays individuals for each HIT (human intelligence task) – usually interpreting an object in a satellite photo. In the Jim Gray Mechanical Turk project you scan a satellite photo of a block of the ocean and try to find Jim’s boat or something that will give a clue about him.

It’s A Mystery

The Coast Guard says it scoured a three hundred mile area, every possible square inch of ocean where Gray could possibly be and came up empty. “It’s a mystery,” is all they can offer. If the massive Internet effort turns up something credible, they will investigate.  

“He’s the kind of guy you want your son to grow up to be,” said one blogger, among the many comments that were hurt and hopeful, the first few days after the Coast Guard called off the search. The posts are now more somber and technical, resigned. It is doubtful, at this stage, whether he will be found alive. But it seems like this is some kind of big event, when we are reminded of the great promise and ultimate inadequacy of science against nature. How can a man who pioneered so many breakthrough technologies for storing and retrieving and accessing and sharing information simply disappear? The answer must be somewhere in the system, in a retrievable analytical database. Somewhere.

Turkers Working Hard on the Search for Jim Gray

It is now 3 PM on Sunday afternoon and the group of volunteers in the the search for Jim Gray has worked their way through almost 100,000 assignments since Friday 5 PM. Since then we have seen over 6000 individual workers completing anywhere from 1 to almost a 1000 assignments. And there are still more to go. Over 2000 images were marked for further inspection. today’s post on “All things distributed” blog of Werner Vogels, CTO Amazon

See Missing scientist’s contributions are legendary in today’s Seattle Times

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