Amazon Wants You To Be Its Turk

    November 4, 2005
    WebProNews Staff

Complete a task for Amazon under its Mechanical Turk program, and the online retailer will reward people with a small deposit to their Amazon accounts.

Remember when computers did what humans told them to do? Now the relationship has changed. Do what Amazon’s Mechanical Turk tells you to do, and you could get a little reward.

In describing the service, Amazon recounts the legend of the chess-playing automaton from the 1700s. Kempelen convinced people like Ben Franklin and Napoleon he had created a thinking machine, and called it the Mechanical Turk.

Amazon has made the Turk available as part of its Web Services. It provides an API for third-party developers to create their own Turks. For those applications, Amazon collects 10 percent of whatever the requester is paying users for completing a Human Intelligence Task.

The company describes the service from the developer side:

Developers use the Amazon Mechanical Turk web services API to submit tasks to the Amazon Mechanical Turk web site, approve completed tasks, and incorporate the answers into their software applications.

To the application, the transaction looks very much like any remote procedure call – the application sends the request, and the service returns the results. In reality, a network of humans fuels this Artificial Artificial Intelligence by coming to the web site, searching for and completing tasks, and receiving payment for their work.

To borrow a phrase, don’t plan on quitting your day job. Small tasks equal small payments, generally a few cents per task. But the money Amazon pays is real, and can be transferred out to a checking account or used toward purchases. It could be worth someone’s time if they’re idling away the hours for some reason.

David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business. Email him here.