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Peter Lee and his Balloons April 14, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in service design, social computing.

Last night I met at the Microsoft Software Summit with Peter Lee, who is the newly appointed director of Microsoft Research in Redmond. Prior to this he was for many years the dean from computer science at CMU. In between these two jobs he was director with DARPA, an public research institution belonging to the DARPA – the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. DAPRA has quite a surprising mission – at least for me: they have to “prevent strategic surprises”. Peter explained to me that DAPRA was funded after the USSR’s launch of the Sputnik, which was such a surprise…!

We talked about one project, which he initiated and which I liked a lot: Peter wanted to find out how technology can motivate a large group of people to work together on a joined goal. For this he prepared the DARPA Network ChallengeThe challenge is to be the first to submit the locations of 10 moored, 8-foot, red, weather balloons at 10 fixed locations in the continental United States. The balloons will be in readily accessible locations and visible from nearby roads.

(image source)

Guess, who won: a group of students at the MIT. They set up an interesting system for sharing the 40.000$ among a big group of people. The interesting part is that the people who directly or indirectly introduced a finder to the team also won money:

(image source)

I really like the challenge (and of course the solution). Especially interesting is that this challenged was posted by Peter, who comes from computer science: This combination of social challenges supported by computer science (or interface design) are one of the important areas we got to look at – not only to find red wheather balloons, but to involve people in a lot of urgent tasks.

The way of sharing and recognizing each individual’s contribution in a fair and motivating way is also quite an interesting challenge, which needs to be better understood!



1. Report on Microsoft Research Summit 2011 in Paris « interaction design - May 10, 2011

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