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Hackathon Creates Tech Solutions for Child Safety

By May 17, 2016 November 1st, 2016 No Comments

Greg Clark is a Senior Program Manager at Microsoft and participated in the recent Child Safety Hackathon at Facebook.

As someone who has spent his entire career thus far working in technology, I’ve always looked for opportunities to use my skills and experience to make a difference, beyond simply producing new innovative software and services.

I recently had the privilege of traveling to the Bay Area to attend a Child Safety Hackathon, put on by Facebook, featuring challenges from Thorn and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). The goal was to raise the problem of child sex trafficking to a diverse group of engineers to see what progress could be made over two days. The result was truly amazing!

The event kicked off on Wednesday morning, May 4, and when I walked in the room, I started meeting some of the other attendees, many of whom were from companies I would normally view as competitors. Surprisingly, within the first hour of forming our teams, anyone else who came into the room would never be able to guess the range of companies that made up the group. As soon as the problem space and some of the needs were presented to us, everyone was immediately united around a common vision, and any prior company or technology alliances were shed. I don’t think there was one discussion over which technology or platform was preferred (other than a few of us who struggled a bit to get OpenCV working on any platform J).

Creating Concrete Tech Solutions Across Company Lines

My team was tasked with solving a computer vision challenge to assist in the detection of child exploitation images. What initially seemed like a straightforward problem quickly turned complex due to the many factors associated with the computer vision space. We created a number of hypotheses on solutions to the problem and, thanks to the grit of the team, by the end of the first evening had a working prototype! By the time we had to present to the larger group, we had come up with an initial version of the capability that can immediately be applied to a real-world scenario.

For two days, more than 80 of us sat side-by-side working on a problem that has no corporate boundaries, no technology preferences, and no strategic positions. We shared our experiences, helped each other when we were stuck and, in the end, we made some great forward progress on a heinous problem that continues to plague our global society.

This event has underscored for me the huge need in the “tech-for-good” space, and there are others in the industry with similar desires to do more. I came away feeling very optimistic and energized about how events like this can tap into the community of technologists looking for opportunities to use their skills to make a bigger impact in the world. I am very much looking forward to the next event where I can meet more people with a similar passion and continue to advance the mission of putting an end to child sex trafficking across the globe.

If you’d like to share your talent and time to stop online child abuse, and get involved in the next Thorn event, submit a Digital Defenders survey.