Investigators in domains such as journalism, military intelligence, and human rights advocacy frequently analyze photographs of questionable or unknown provenance. These photos can provide invaluable leads and evidence, but even experts must invest significant time in each analysis, with no guarantee of success. Crowdsourcing, with its affordances for scalability and parallelization, has great potential to augment expert performance, but little is known about how crowds might fit into photo analysts’ complex workflows. In this talk, I present my group’s research with two communities: open-source investigators who geolocate and verify social media photos, and antiquarians who identify unknown persons in 19th-century portrait photography. Informed by qualitative studies of current practice, we developed a novel approach, expert-led crowdsourcing, that combines the complementary strengths of experts and crowds to solve photo mysteries. We built two software tools based on this approach, GroundTruth and Photo Sleuth, and evaluated them with real experts. I conclude by discussing some broader takeaways for crowdsourced investigations, sensemaking, and image analysis.
Dr. Kurt Luther is an assistant professor of computer science and (by courtesy) history at Virginia Tech. He directs the Crowd Intelligence Lab, where his research group builds and studies crowdsourcing systems that support creativity and discovery. He is also a contributing editor for Military Images, where he has published a column on historical photo analysis since 2015. He has received the NSF CAREER Award (2017), the AAAI HCOMP Notable Paper Award (2017) and Best Demo Award (2018), and the Microsoft Cloud AI Research Challenge Grand Prize (2018). Previously, he was a postdoctoral fellow in the HCI Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. He received his Ph.D. in human-centered computing from Georgia Tech, and his B.S. in computer graphics technology, with a minor in art and design, from Purdue University. He also worked in the Social Computing groups at IBM Research and Microsoft Research, and on the User Experience team at YouTube/Google.