Solving Photo Mysteries with Expert-Led Crowdsourcing

Title: Solving Photo Mysteries with Expert-Led Crowdsourcing
Speaker: Kurt Luther, Department of Computer Science, Virginia Tech
Time: 12:30 - 1:30pm
Room: Gates-Hillman Complex 6501

Despite the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words, images often need context to be meaningful to their viewers. In this talk, I show how expert-led crowdsourcing, a novel approach that combines the relative strengths of experts and amateur crowds, can be used to solve photo mysteries. In one example, I conducted a qualitative study of image verification experts in journalism, national security, and human rights organizations to understand how they perform geolocation, the process of mapping the precise location where a photo or video was taken. This research informed the design of GroundTruth, a system where experts collaborate with crowds to geolocate unknown images. In another example, I partnered with a historical photography magazine to develop Civil War Photo Sleuth, a system that leverages crowdsourcing and computer vision techniques to help experts identify unknown soldier portraits from the 19th century. I also discuss broader challenges and opportunities in crowdsourced investigations, open-source intelligence, and collaborative sensemaking illustrated by these examples.

Kurt Luther is an assistant professor of computer science at Virginia Tech, where he is also affiliated with the Center for Human-Computer Interaction, the Department of History, and the Hume Center for National Security and Technology. He directs the Crowd Intelligence Lab (, an interdisciplinary research group exploring how crowdsourcing systems can support creativity and discovery. He is principal investigator for over $1.5M in sponsored research, including an NSF CAREER Award. Previously, Dr. Luther was a postdoctoral fellow in the HCI Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. He received his Ph.D. in human-centered computing from Georgia Tech, where he was a Foley Scholar, and his B.S. in computer graphics technology from Purdue University. He has also worked at IBM Research, Microsoft Research, and YouTube/Google.