Crowdsourcing is often thought of as the solution to a number of business problems, but the innovation obviously doesn’t stop at the limits of data entry and market research. VizWiz is a company that is using a combination of technology and crowdsourcing to answer general visual questions for people with visual impairments. Last year, VizWiz was ACM’s winner of the best paper prize at the symposium on User Interface Software and Technology. This year they are working on launching a new iPhone application powered by the muscle of crowdsourcing. The iPhone app is designed for the visually impaired who can take a picture of an object and submit it through the app with a question (ex: “what’s written on the label of this product?”). Instead of trying to solve the technologically complex problem of having a computer answer the question, VizWiz uses Mechanical Turk (a paid crowdsource employer through Amazon) to have a human answer the question.
There are other companies that are using crowdsourcing as a method of empowering and improving the lives of others. Bidinnovacion is a program that works to launch pilot projects specifically aimed upon improving the economic and social inclusion of people with disabilities in impoverished parts of the world. Now, with over ten projects submitted, users can visit the pilot project page and add their own comments and ideas so that Bidinnovacion can continue to make smart decisions about their investments.
FEMA is launching a similar call for submissions asking for new ideas on improving disaster preparedness: whether that idea is a public service announcement or an app that provides a countdown to the coming apocalypse (oops – that already happened). The best and most unique idea will be selected and featured on FEMA’s website and put into action at FEMA. With over 187 ideas already submitted and more than 500 people discussing those suggestions, they’re bound to come up with some creative solutions.
What other crowdsourcing pursuits are out there working to make the world a better place? What other problems could we solve by tapping into the wisdom of our crowds? Are crowds the best place for idealism? How do we keep the conversation going as we continue to try and make the world a better place?