Saturday, November 05, 2005

Mechanical Turk

So, this morning I check out Technorati and the top search term is "Mechanical Turk." Hmmm, I say (or rather hum) to myself, what's all this then? It's not the first time a top Technorati search term has left me guessing (the usual suspects relate to modern music, e.g., Babyshambles or some such -- I am so well preprared to embarass my daughter 7-10 years from now). However logical my initial hunch, I instinctively mistrust even the notion of a Fully Automated Istanbul. Thus, I click through to one of the blogs identified as referencing this new thing. To be precise, I visit Delicategenius:

Finally, and most interestingly, [ has] introduced “Amazon Mechanical Turk: Artificial Artificial Intelligence“. Basically, it’s a service aimed at getting humans to do tasks which can’t be done by computer.

So, it goes like this - If a user of the API wants to implement a feature which requires data that can’t be determined by a computer (eg the contents of an image or analysis of a text or evaluating beauty or translating text etc), they implement the feature and specify a fee for how much they’re happy to pay for each request fulfilled. Requests are called HITs (Human Intelligence Tasks).

Users can sign up to fulfil HITs and get paid accordingly. Amazon takes a cut of 10%.

Ahh. This explains it all: Amazon has come up with a means for trading with the vast pool of Mechanically-Integrated Distributed Intelligence, i.e., people with connections, keyboards and some degree of smarts, or, generally speaking, most of us. For a small fee, I -- nay, we -- can perform services for Amazon that demand application of intelligence beyond that of our current microprocessors. It is, I think, a truly neat idea. Apparently quite a few other Mechanically-Integrated Distributed Intelligences (MIDI's, if you will) agree:
Thanks for checking out Amazon Mechanical Turk. We’re currently experiencing extremely heavy traffic to this beta site, To read about Amazon Mechanical Turk and its web services APIs, go to [here] (where page load times are fast). Also, send a blank email to if you want us to email you when page load times recover at

- Amazon Mechanical Turk Team
Ahhh, the future. She is here. For more information, check out the thoughts of Alex Castro, who worked on the project at Amazon, TechCrunch, Perceptric Forum, and Yardley. And, in the interest of competing views, John Stahl is (tentatively) skeptical and David Flanagan thinks the Turk is downright "creepy". Lastly, for a creative application of MIDI's to the blogosphere, check out Read/Write Web.

Linked to Don Surber's Saturday Open Post (as an added incentive, Don finds a moment to give Molly Ivins a quick and handy lesson in domestic realities. An expanded version of the lesson is available here).