Investigators are no longer wary of crowds at the scene of crime — in fact, they depend on them, claims a tech fan.

AD: Hey, what are you looking for?

BC: I lost a file...

AD: Maybe you should crowdsource your search operation.

BC: You mean summon a crowd and get everyone to search for my file?

AD: Something like that. There will be more hands on deck and…

BC: If I have the entire neighbourhood rummaging through this place, I will have to crowdsource the construction of another house.

AD: That’s nothing — the FBI crowdsourced evidence that helped them identify the culprits in the Boston marathon bombing.

BC: Sounds like the modern equivalent of rounding up a posse and launching a manhunt…

AD: Only it’s quicker, more effective and uses technology. Do you know that each minute, over 2,00,000 photos are posted on Facebook and over 72 hours of video footage uploaded on YouTube?

BC: But what does that have to do with the investigation?

AD: Obviously, there’s a spike in these uploads during key events such as the Boston marathon. So, from the neighbourhood stores at the venue to the crowds present at the marathon, everyone was encouraged by the authorities to send in images and video clips of the event.

BC: And?

AD: Apparently, the initial findings began with some grainy images of two young men in caps. When these were shared online, people sent thousands of images and videos that were shot with better focus and higher resolution.

BC: So, it’s not just the surveillance cameras at vantage points that help during an investigation.

AD: Absolutely, and that’s where technology comes into play. Can you imagine this happening a couple of decades ago?

BC: Agreed, but with millions of people enthusiastically sending in what they think could be potential evidence, isn’t there bound to be a lot of confusion?

AD: Sure, but it used to be the same even in the good old days when the authorities asked people to call in. Incidentally, the technology that you blame actually helped the FBI get back on track and nail the men responsible.

BC: How is that?

AD: Companies such as CrowdOptic have come up with cutting-edge data analysis tools that gather information from the smartphones being used, and make several key inferences. This information helped the authorities fine-tune their search.

BC: How much time does all this take?

AD: Possibly a second to sift through over 1,00,000 images and pick the one that best suits the requirement.

BC: So that was how the FBI managed to make arrests, within 96 hours of the bombing.

AD: That’s right. CrowdOptic’s technology works based on the metadata linked to every image clicked with a smartphone. It can then sort out these images based on the exact time when they were clicked and the location...

BC: And that led the investigators to the focal point of the incident involving the bombers.

AD: You got it. The application software filters images based on their relevance and on the popularity of the photo object appearing across various shots.

BC: Looks like crowdsourcing technology has put terrorists in a Catch-22 situation.

AD: Why is that?

BC: Terrorists and disruptive elements normally seek crowded places to wreak havoc. But if they do so, crowdsourcing technology is sure to expose them. And if they blow up their bombs where there’s no one around, it wouldn’t serve their purpose.

AD: I don’t know about that, but I can tell you how technology has made people more human...

BC: Has it?

AD: It sure has! In the good old days, the authorities would have to announce rewards for anyone who would help them nab a culprit. Today, thanks to technology, they can get their work done for free.

(sureshl.india@gmail.com)