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The Devil's Advocate: Calamities and the Internet Response League

Column By Victor Barreiro Jr. on September 27, 2013

Last Saturday, September 21, I had the pleasure of working my fellows at Rappler to hold the Manila Social Good Summit. It’s basically a symposium where speakers discussed a particular theme that technology and social media can address or help with.

In this case, the speakers tackled disasters: from disaster response and relief, to volunteerism and the uses of big data. In big data’s case, the idea is to provide more accurate and more timely information for responders to act upon in times of crisis.

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How does this relate to online games, you may ask? Simple: there are folks trying to integrate socio-civic world consciousness with big crisis data initiatives to help other areas in the event of a disaster. They call themselves the Internet Response League, or IRL for short, and I’d like to introduce the readers here to IRL and the idea of combining gaming and disaster response.

The Crisis of Big Crisis Data

Patrick Meier, Director of Innovation at the Qatar Foundation Computing Research Institute (QCRI), spoke via Google Hangout at the Manila Social Good Summit about the potential for crowdsourced information (people tweeting photos and information location, basically) to provide quick, reliable data that disaster response teams could use to help make important decisions on the field if something bad is happening.

Meier, however, cited one one big problem with big data: "[the] vast volume and velocity of information can be as paralyzing as the absence of information to support and mobilize humanitarian response."

Vetting the stream of information, coordinating with local government agencies, and getting the information out to responders takes time that some people may not have. The faster this crowdsourced data is processed, the quicker it is to send relevant information to people.

Human and Machine Computing

Meier cited that there was a potential way to address this issue, but it wouldn’t be easy. Basically, machines could filter out all the junk information, then send what it deems as verifiable information for people to make judgment calls on the severity of the problem in a given tweet or picture on a tweet.

We’re not talking about a staff of 20 folks looking at machine fed tweets, mind you. For the human aspect of this computing system to work, people have to opt into it and actually offer up some time out of their lives to seriously vet this information, knowing that lives are really at stake.

The potential solution brought up to allow this to work? Getting large groups of people from around the world who are already online to willingly spend less than 30 seconds to judge the severity of an calamity in a location from a given photo.

That’s where the IRL comes in.

Man and Machine, Power Extreme?

The Internet Response League allows disaster response analysis to be distributed to gamers who have opted in to helping with checking the information quickly. When a disaster happens, online games would have an integrated mechanism allowing players to willingly receive some information to check.

For example, if you’ve opted in and are playing World of Warcraft, the game would tell you if a disaster is happening in the real world where you can provide tangible help, and ask you to rate the severity of damage in a given photograph.

The kicker is that the photo is actually coming in from social media reports of people in a disaster area, and that gamer is contributing by ensuring the information that was sorted by a machine is accurate and relevant (and possibly in need of immediate assistance) with just a single click.

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The Devil's Advocate
The Devil's Advocate is an opportunity for the oft-shunned and little discussed “Other Side of the Story” to be heard, promoting open discussion on a heavily contested subject.
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