Citizen Scientist Project to Aid Syria

September 27, 2011 By Aminda

An interesting venture is underway combining citizen science and social responsibility. Crisis mapping expert Patrick Meier of Ushahidi is coordinating a project with the Amnesty International USA to use satellite imagery to identify evidence of mass human rights violations from the Syrian rebellion. Digital imagery was shared with AI for free but professional satellite imagery experts with time to volunteer their skills are harder to come by.

In response, an online volunteer community was enlisted to tackle the task of analyzing and tagging the data. Efforts are focused on three key (but unidentified) cities in Syria and on identifying evidence of three primary features: large crowds, large military equipment and checkpoints. These features have been determined as relatively easy to identify.

Project coordinators understand that volunteers will not be able to do the same type of remote sensing analysis that experts are capable of. Volunteers are provided with examples of what these features look like from both a bird’s eye view and from ground level. Screenshots shared will be used to build a larger reference library. Quality control is built into the project – images must be tagged by three different volunteers before being sent to an AI expert.

Early into the project launch a reported 2000 potential trouble spots had already been identified. Because of the violent conflict and human rights violations involved, participation is currently kept limited to a predefined group of volunteers. Meier describes this as an “experimental and exploratory project at this point, the purpose of which is to test a completely new and pioneering approach to satellite imagery analysis and human rights monitoring.” AI USA has stated they will determine how and when to publicly release information from the project “depending on what is found.”



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