When computer scientist Jim Gray was lost at sea earlier this year, Amazon stepped in to help. They arranged for a satellite sweep of the area and stored the images on their S3 storage service. They then created a task on their Mechanical Turk service to allow volunteers to scan the images to look for the boat. Thousands of people joined the search, but he was never found.
Now Steve Fossett, a 63 year old aviator, sailor and adventurer with a number of world records, has disappeared as well. On September 3, an airplane he was flying in Nevada failed to return. No one has any idea where he is.
His friend Richard Branson now says he will use Google Earth to try and find Fossett. Google may have taken new satellite photos over the last few days which may have information that can help find him.
With Gray, there was a lot of data to review and a boat appears as a very small number of pixels in a given satellite image. Looking for a plane, or even a weather disturbance, in the Nevada desert may not be much easier. Still, if Branson and/or Google call for volunteers to help with the search, I am sure that thousands will join the effort. And once again, Mechanical Turk would be a perfect way to organize the volunteers, even if they are looking at Google data.
Let’s all hope that this has a happier ending than the Jim Gray story.