Computing Community Consortium Blog

The goal of the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) is to catalyze the computing research community to debate longer range, more audacious research challenges; to build consensus around research visions; to evolve the most promising visions toward clearly defined initiatives; and to work with the funding organizations to move challenges and visions toward funding initiatives. The purpose of this blog is to provide a more immediate, online mechanism for dissemination of visioning concepts and community discussion/debate about them.

Finding One Man in 60 Million Square Miles

July 15th, 2011 / in research horizons, Research News / by Erwin Gianchandani

Search is a hard problem in computing, but it’s a critical problem in real life, as friends of computer scientist Jim Gray found out when he vanished at sea. In July’s issue of the Communications of the ACM, Gray’s friends describe the story of their technical challenges and lessons learned.

Gray was famous for many things, including his determination to work with practitioners to transform the practical challenges they faced into scientific questions that could be formalized and addressed by the research community. As the search for Tenacious wound down, a number of us felt that even though the effort was not successful on its own terms, it offered a Jim-Gray-like opportunity to convert the particulars of the experience into higher-level technical observations of more general interest. One goal was to encourage efforts to “democratize” the ability of families and friends to use technology to assist SAR, so people whose social network is not as well-connected as Gray’s could undertake analogous efforts. In addition, we hoped to review the techniques we used and ask how to improve them further to make the next search effort more effective. To that end, in May 2008, the day after a public tribute to Gray at the University of California, Berkeley, we convened a meeting of search participants, including the Coast Guard. This was the first opportunity for the virtual organization that had searched for Tenacious to meet face-to-face and compare stories and perspectives.

The speed required to handle complex disasters is a unique challenge in computer science, but its practical application increases as the speed of computers ramps up and their relative functionality correspondingly improves.

This article aims to distill some of that discussion within computer science, which is increasingly interested in disaster response (such as following the 2007 Kenyan election crisis1 and 2010 Haiti earthquake2). We document the emergent structure of the team and its communication, the “polytechture” of the systems built during the search, and some of the related challenges; a longer version of this article3 includes additional figures, discussion, and technical challenges.

The authors point out a few areas needing advancement generally: easier access to data, improved software options, social response methods, etc. Such advances would contribute not just to maritime rescue, but more generally to search and rescue as well as disaster response.

Click through to read the whole article, with a number of interesting tidbits of wisdom.

(Contributed by Max ChoEben Tisdale Fellow, CRA)

Finding One Man in 60 Million Square Miles

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