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Extension > Family Matters > Taking Time to Reflect — and Meet Grand Challenges

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Taking Time to Reflect — and Meet Grand Challenges

By Trish Olson, Director of Programs

What feelings does this image provoke for you? I used to feel irritation, but now I feel something quite different — pride.


In a recent TED Radio Hour titled, "Why We Collaborate,” I learned how taking time to reflect transformed an important but tedious Internet task into a contribution to the greater good. CAPTCHA, developed by Luis von Ahn, is a type of challenge/response test used online to determine whether or not the user is human. In his TED Radio Hour segment, von Ahn said he asked himself whether human brain cycles used to perform security checks via his system could be harnessed for other uses, too, such as digitizing books and newspaper articles, many of which were printed before the Internet age.

This is the idea behind reCAPTCHA, which has been used to digitize more than 13 million New York Times articles, dating from 1851 to the present day. By replacing meaningless strings of letters with images of hard-to-read words, von Ahn managed to turn a necessary, but annoying task for users into a contribution to a large-scale project.

So how does this relate to Family Development? Von Ahn needed a pause to reflect on CAPTCHA and envision how the time used for a challenge-response test could also be used to tackle a daunting task. Last week, the FD leadership team paused to reflect with staff from the Southwest, Northwest, Northeast, and Southeast regions on the grand challenges of their communities. Like von Ahn, we’re asking how we could leverage something we already do to achieve more. We’re looking at how we can transform our existing programs and relationships in the community into novel ways of addressing Minnesota’s grand challenges. We started something — now, let’s keep going.

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