Monday, November 14, 2005

Amazon's Mechanical Turk

I have been playing with Amazon's new Mechanical Turk and I have to say it is quite intriguing. Awhile ago I had written about CAPTCHAs and mentioned that I had heard about Internet sweatshops overseas in which human beings were employed as a part of computer programs to perform tasks like cracking these visual passcodes... Amazon's Mechanical Turk is a commercialized version of this idea. There is a good write-up of it over on the Programmable Web blog.

So I logged on and tried it out. The current tasks are about linking a photo (taken with some sort of drive-by camera apparatus) to a business name and address. I did about 50 of these matches in half an hour, and they are valued at $0.03 per task. So if all of my tasks are "approved" I made $1.50 -- or about $3.00 an hour. While that is more than I make from doing this blog, it isn't going to pay the mortgage. On the other hand, $3.00 an hour is a princely sum for parts of the developing world -- although in its current form a grasp of English and familiarity with the web are a barrier to entry for the neediest of the unemployed.

All-in-all a fascinating experiment and an indicator of something I think we will see more of before we see less -- that is, humans becoming cogs in computer processing. Think about building an artificial intelligence made up of tens of thousands of people responding to the tasks put to the AI -- humans masquerading as computers masquerading as humans?

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