Enabling Technology


The goal of this project is to create new communitites by connecting people over the internet. I will be researching different volunteer and job opportunities that could be accomplished over the web and different groups of people who would be interested in taking advantage of these opportunities.

Some of my current ideas revolve around connecting a senior citizen to work one-on-one with a child with disabilities or finding tasks augcom users could complete for companies over the internet. The advantage of using the internet is that people could participate in these activities without having to leave their home.

The first issue to this project is finding more tasks that are currently not being done or being done inefficiently and could benefit from being out-sourced to a volunteer or elderly employee over the internet. Even with the amazing computing power available today there are still certain tasks that will always be done better by humans than computers. For example, labeling pictures on the web is not a task that can be done easily by computers so a student from Carnegie Mellon University, Luis von Ahn, turned the task into a simple online game. (its fun! Google ?esp game?) Now millions of pictures have been labeled simply by finding people with spare time and using their brain power as they enjoyed the game. In this example accuracy is improved by checking the results from one person with many other people. I will also be researching Amazon’s interesting beta web service “Mechanical Turk” for more ideas on what tasks companies need completed and how to make tasks accessible online.

This strategy could be applied to other areas. While at first cancer research may appear to be too important to be handled by anyone except those with the proper education, if you can ensure that the results of a simple enough task of counting cells will be accurate why shouldn???t we give researchers all the support they can get. If cell counting was given as a task to the elderly, accuracy could be ensured by different methods. Slides with pre-counted cells could be mixed in with the un-counted slides to determine the accuracy of that batch of slides counted. Batches of slides could be counted over and over by different people in a pyramid structure until enough people agreed on the number of cells on each slide.

The second issue in this project is finding out how interested people would be to get involved in this process and how we can make it more appealing to people. While counting cells might not sound like an exciting job, if you know you are doing something to help society it might be a valuable way to spend your spare time.

Also, if the results are accurate enough to be of real value to researchers they might be willing to pay people to count cells for them. For an elderly person or AAC-user who might not be able to get a job or volunteer, because of limited mobility, a job they can access at the nearest computer might be a great opportunity for them. If an elderly person could be a mentor to a child over the internet, he/she would also benefit by making a new companion outside of their home. Depending on the age and disability of the child, he/she may prefer if interacting with their mentor was part of a game or maybe just the ability to make a new friend over the internet would be satisfying enough.

Another issue is determining the limitations and special requirements for participants to be able to use the internet. For the elderly this might mean a simplified interface to the internet with large text and buttons. For the children, each would require different enabling technologies and appropriate software depending on what they needed to work on with their mentor.