Using Computers to Prevent Human Rights Violations

By Uduak Thomas, M.A.

I write about software quite a bit, so challenges like this one are very dear to my heart. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Humanity United, and TopCoder are challenging computer scientists to develop statistical solutions and algorithms that can predict which areas are at greater risk for genocide, mass rape, and ethnic cleansing.

It’s all part of a larger project called the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention, which aims to develop new ways to combat and prevent the worst violations of human rights. The partners are hosting a series of competitions, including this one, for that purpose.

In this case, participants are being asked to develop computational models that can help identify risk factors that make communities more or less likely to experience violent acts using existing public datasets, from a single or multiple geographical areas, which measure social, economic, or physical factors. Also participants can work on what’s called a Communicate Challenge, which aims to create better and more secure communication channels between and among conflict-affected communities.

I don’t know about you but I for one will be very interested to see what sort of virtual fruits come out of this competition. I should also add that there is a $70,000 prize pool at stake. First place winners in the Model and Communicate challenges will receive $10,000, second place winners will receive $7,000, and third place winners will receive $3,000, with additional prizes awarded for other aspects of the challenge.

On a final note, most folks who read this blog are probably familiar with USAID and Humanity United, but TopCoder may be a little strange. Basically, it’s a crowdsourcing company. They have developed an online platform and community of over 466,000 algorithm specialists, software developers and creative artists. Through its platform, TopCoder works with groups that need help solving a particularly difficult problem. TopCoder helps clients frame their question as a computational problem and then presents it to its community of users for a certain period of time. Those guys work on the problem, submit their solutions back to TopCoder, who then passes it back to the client. It seems pretty easy to join. Just register here.

Uduak Thomas, M.A., is a journalist and science writer specializing in medical research and healthcare. She is Social Media Editor forCancer InCytes Magazine.

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