Hit & Run

William Eggers on Crowdsourcing Social Problems

Using distributed technology to tackle society's most intractable challenges.

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engineroomblog / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Recognize the distorted text to your right? That's a knock-off of CAPTCHA, the ingenious online system for verifying that you are a human user of a website and not some crawling bot. Ahn's reCAPTCHA, now owned by Google, uses the CAPTCHA interface to break up digitizing projects into two-word chunks of old scanned texts. Users-an estimated 10 percent of the world's population-are unknowingly helping to digitize around 100 million words a day, the equivalent of about 2.5 million books a year. William Eggers highlights this and other ways public, private, and nonprofit organizations can use lightweight, distributed approaches to solve societal problems faster and cheaper than the existing sclerotic models.