Apocalypse Now-ish: can crowdsourcing save us from 2012?

November 3rd, 2011 by

microtask_2012As every Mayan priest and Hollywood film director knows, 2012 is officially the year of the apocalypse. All over the world, conspiracy theorists are stocking up on canned goods and exchanging tips on bunker design.

There’s even a black US president, and that only ever happens in disaster movies. In these dark days, can anyone save humanity? Yes, that’s right folks, the crowd can (well sort of).

Take the classic doomsday scenario of an asteroid hurtling towards the earth. For many years, scientists have struggled to identify and track every “near earth object”. Now the European Space Agency (ESA) has appealed to the crowd for help. ESA is piloting a project where amateur astronomers work with automated software to hunt for asteroids. Volunteers in Tenerife have already spotted one asteroid classed as a “potential impact threat”. Luckily it “just” missed the earth by about 30 million km (so no need to call in Bruce Willis quite yet). ESA aims to have nightly crowdsourced sky surveys running by (you guessed it) 2012.

What about Hollywood’s other favorite apocalypse: the killer global virus? Here too crowdsourcing may have the answer – the humble video game. Recently, the scientific establishment was astonished when players of online protein-folding game Foldit work out the structure of an HIV enzyme. Biochemists have struggled with this fiendishly complex enzyme for over 10 years. It took the Foldit crowd 3 weeks to decode it. Finding the antidote to a deadly global epidemic should be no problem.

Finally, if the end really is nigh, we can always mobilize crowdsourced crisis response platforms to help sort out the mess. I bet Ushahidi could have an interactive zombie infestation map online in under 24 hours. Clearly the crowd has got global annihilation covered. 2012? Bring it on I say.