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Surprising Science

For Those Who Need The Crowd’s Help Right Now

It’s one thing to have someone online perform a routine task. It’s another if you’re blind and about to eat dinner, or you’re deaf and attending a college lecture. Two apps come to the rescue.

What’s the Latest Development?

Two iOS apps developed at the University of Rochester’s Human Computer Interaction program provide immediate assistance to the sensory-disabled by calling upon the many anonymous microworkers online. VizWiz allows blind users to take a photo of something that needs identifying — for example, a frozen dinner label — and record a single question about it, such as “What is on the label of this item?” They can then send the data to workers at Amazon’s Mechanical Turk or to friends on Facebook or Twitter. Scribe lets deaf/hard-of-hearing users stream audio to online workers, who transcribe it in real time.

What’s the Big Idea?

The online worker crowd, like that found at Mechanical Turk, is a great resource when tasks don’t have to be completed for a few hours, days, or weeks. However, sometimes workers are needed for immediate answers, and various computer science researchers are starting to bridge that gap by creating technology for those who need it most. Interestingly, for quick help,  the anonymous crowd is often better than one’s personal social network, according to this VizWiz user: “When I need something identified like a can or TV dinner I am going to use it now, not whenever my friends get around to telling me what it is.”

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Read it at The New York Times


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