2016 TED Prize Will Support Crowdsourced Space Archaeology

Sarah Parcak is the recipient of the 2016 TED Prize, which is connected to a wish.  The $1 million in prize money is invested in a wish developed by each year’s winner.  Parcak is a leader in the field of space archaeology, using remote sensing to facilitate discoveries of ancient civilizations.  She describes her work in this clip from her appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert from January of this year.

She had to wait for yesterday’s TED Prize ceremony to officially announce her wish.  The idea is to utilize the labor of the crowds to help identify potential sites for in person examination.  Called Global Xplorer, the project would facilitate crowd help through a website where participants examine satellite images to identify possible structures (or remnants of structures) for further study.  Items put up for analysis would not be geotagged as to mitigate the possibility of looting and to not lead the analysis in a particular direction.  Possible structures identified by a sufficient number of participants would get additional scrutiny and possibly a field visit.

This isn’t all that different from the projects hosted at sites like Zooniverse, where crowd input on things as diverse as whale tails, distant galaxies, ship logs and bat calls can be used to find and track patterns in a variety of science fields.

Global Xplorer is expected to be ready for beta testing later this year.  By combining space imagery with crowd input, Parcak and her colleagues anticipate being able to explore a much larger area for evidence of ancient civilizations.  Now that much more data can be gathered for study, more people are needed to analyze that data in order to make the best use of it.

The $1 million TED Prize is expected to build the basic platform.  Parcak and the TED folks welcome interested investors for expanding the platform and supporting related projects.  Consult the Global Xplorer website for more information.

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