Sunday, March 25, 2007

Amazon's Mechanical Turk (a.k.a. "Artificial Artificial Intelligence")

The New York Times reports today (in an article titled "Artificial Intelligence, with Help from the Humans") that CEO Jeff Bezos has created a service dubbed the "Mechanical Turk," in which humans are given lowest-bidder pay for solving problems that computers find too difficult. The Turk, as well documented by Tom Standage, was the famous 18th and 19th Century mechanical chess player that actually hid a human operator inside (laboring under very difficult conditions, in a cramped space with no bathroom). Edgar Allan Poe may have been the first to deduce the secret in his essay Maelzel's Chess Player.  Bezos has also invested in a company called ChaCha which will farm out search tasks to human bidders in a process they like to call "artificial artificial intelligence." I am both disturbed by the idea of Amazon exploiting people's labor at cut-rate prices, and also saddened to imagine many of them working under exploitative conditions.  "The Turk" makes a good image for that, with a man in a box turned into a machine.

1 comment:

Robert Pearson said...

I might give it a try, depending on how low that lowest-bidder pay is!

Worth exploring as a way to use your spare time, anyway.