MIT scientists devise Qurk to make data crowdsourcing easier

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System could be used to help NASA, NOAA farm out data processing.

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a system to make it easier to engage large masses of people in making sense of a clump of data, the university announced.

The researchers devised a database system called Qurk that will automatically crowdsource data-sorting tasks that are hard to perform computationally, such as analyzing and captioning of images.

Qurk addresses the question of how to make sure people know what needs to be done so that they can help process data and pictures. It spits out orders to people to sort, categorize or rank information. It also provides a user interface that helps people compare images more efficiently than they can with Amazon’s Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing service, which is an online service that programmers use to assign work to people when they need help sorting data that computers can’t.

The technology could be used to help government agencies such as NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration farm out satellite image processing to the crowd. At NASA, for instance, volunteers have been tapped to find interstellar dust grains captured in aerogel collectors on a spacecraft and mark craters on footage taken on space missions to build a map of Mars.

The scientists will present their work at the International Conference on Very Large Databases in Istanbul at the end of August.