What is Mechanical Turk?
November 3, 2005 8:26 PM   Subscribe

Complete simple tasks that people do better than computers. And, get paid for it. In 1769, Hungarian nobleman Wolfgang von Kempelen astonished Europe by building a mechanical chess-playing automaton that defeated nearly every opponent it faced. A life-sized wooden mannequin, adorned with a fur-trimmed robe and a turban, Kempelen’s "Turk" was seated behind a cabinet and toured Europe confounding such brilliant challengers as Benjamin Franklin and Napoleon Bonaparte. Excuse me? Ah, yes. The Mechanical Turk, by Amazon.
posted by nitsuj (37 comments total)
I hope this gets patented: method for people to request information from other people and corresponding method for delivery of results.

No more fucking stupid questions, no more answers. Or amazon sues. Finally I get some peace.

Or: I demand my six cents for the two ask metafilter questions I answered.
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 8:47 PM on November 3, 2005

Further reading on automata: Living Dolls by Gaby Wood.

It would seem that people throughout the ages have either been annoyed or freaked out by artificial intelligence and/or automata.
posted by benATthelocust at 8:56 PM on November 3, 2005

Doing the A9 Blockview ones for about ten minutes earned me a whole 40 cents.

I demand a raise!
posted by neckro23 at 8:56 PM on November 3, 2005

Yeah but im now sitting on a possible 0.30

This is like the MMORPG that pays you
posted by Hicksu at 8:57 PM on November 3, 2005

I am outsourcing this shit.
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 9:01 PM on November 3, 2005

I can't even hit those radio buttons.
posted by kika at 9:01 PM on November 3, 2005


The Automotive HIT Product Description's aren't THAT simple. (though they do pay more)

Maybe we can get a machine to do them?
posted by Hicksu at 9:08 PM on November 3, 2005

All links go to 404.
posted by punishinglemur at 9:10 PM on November 3, 2005

What the hell? I was just touching up my description of Alpena 291027 Auto Graphics Film! Gimme back my 75 cents!
posted by greatgefilte at 9:11 PM on November 3, 2005

I'm not sure this is amazon: www.mturk.com. Would they be so lame?
posted by simra at 9:18 PM on November 3, 2005

Crap... two minutes ago the top-level gave access to their whole directory tree.. honest!
posted by simra at 9:18 PM on November 3, 2005

Wow. If this is a scam, it's a great one. If it's not, it's kind of creepy.

Case in point: the domain's registered on GoDaddy to an "MTAI, Inc.". The Hostmaster's E-mail address is a HotMail account. Making it reek of scam. Yet the IP space it resolves to is Amazon's. And the images are loaded directly off of the Amazon server farm.

Very, very odd stuff.
posted by eschatfische at 9:22 PM on November 3, 2005

And the images are loaded directly off of the Amazon server farm.

Oops. The thing about this which keeps this practice from reeking of scam is that the images are custom "Mechanical Turk" images, and have "mechanical-turk" in the directory structure on a legit Amazon server.
posted by eschatfische at 9:26 PM on November 3, 2005

It's legit. I heard some scuttlebutt about it when I was working at Amazon. I think it's a super-cool idea, but I'm curious as to what kind of niche it settles in, both on the developer side and the labor side.
posted by xthlc at 9:29 PM on November 3, 2005

Scuzzlebutt is real?!
posted by papakwanz at 9:46 PM on November 3, 2005

I feel like a battery. In a pod.
posted by JParker at 9:46 PM on November 3, 2005

So this is real? If this catches on, this is an incredible source of work- I'm imagining that anyone who learned about this, could read, and have access to the internet can make money. That's kinda special.
posted by id at 9:50 PM on November 3, 2005

This will prove to be a great way to get people to perform simple, menial tasks for a bare minimum of money.

On the upside, it also allows for slightly more intensive tasks for someone with minor skills, for something that results in more than $1 an hour.
posted by Saydur at 9:52 PM on November 3, 2005

welcome to the f@cking future. I've been thinking one of the bigger things the PtB could do to shake up the world, on the order of the internet boom if not bigger, is federal e-money, in mills ($0.001).

Why the hell not? Seems like the next move to make.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 10:09 PM on November 3, 2005

Seems that most of the tasks currently up involve the trucks Amazon sent into several markets to create photos for their new street level maps.

Doing some quick math... with a real client side application, one should be able to complete about 1 of these every 5-10 seconds or so. Or about $15/hour. Not bad.
posted by mmdei at 10:24 PM on November 3, 2005

APC's site is performancestyleattitude.com. Sometimes searching "###### site:performancestyleattitude.com" gives you a picture (or try removing letters at the end that specify color), and from there I tried to bullshit two of them. We'll see if it works.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:28 PM on November 3, 2005

This is very reminiscent of the way that the spammers defeat CAPTCHAs by having people decode them (in order to get access to porn and such). The hardest CAPTCHA still has to be human solvable.

On another note, I played around with the Amazon street photo ones for a while. Most of them are honestly pretty difficult and unanswerable. For instance, they'll show a strip mall with a front parking lot, and they took the photos from the street, and you can't even read the signs over the stores. Who knows which one is the right storefront. Or they have a business address that's in a residential neighborhood, and you have no idea which house is the right one. It looks like the obvious ones have already been weeded out.

Also, they only pay $0.03, and you have to be correct. So not worth it.
posted by smackfu at 10:36 PM on November 3, 2005

Also, this is Amazon publically admitting they don't care if their product descriptions are complete bullshit, rather than being able to pretend someone knowledgable is writing them.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:38 PM on November 3, 2005

Well, I did it for about 1.5 hours, sifting through photos that don't look at all like they may be housing a Jiffy Lube within them. Got about 200 HITs done before they ran out. Will see if I get any money for them or if they bend me over, in any case I don't think I get to call myself employed for that.
posted by herting at 10:47 PM on November 3, 2005

finally, a job.
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:48 PM on November 3, 2005

finally, a job ...that I can do in the middle of the night, while geeking out and multitasking, while blind drunk, stoned and/or naked without ever leaving home. No boss to report to, no phone calls to make, no office politics, etc.

I did about 100 image adjustment HITs in a bit under an hour. I don't think I'm going to do any more until I see some approvals and money in the account.

But it's kind of fun and brainless, but not too brainless. It helps if you know the area or city on the image adjustment ones. But even when on a few I did in unfamiliar cities it was pretty easy. I went so far as to cross reference phone numbers visible on storefronts with addresses or business names on google, when address or signage confirmations weren't readily visible or available.

I figure I can keep the mturk page open on the older computer while I just geek out on the other one, and in between pageloads/torrents/games of Armaggatron I can tap one of my computers make a little money for me on the side. Maybe I'll just put it into Amazon gift certificates and buy books or DVDs, whatever.

The pay scale is pretty low, though. A smallish bump in the pay scales would make it a lot more exciting and attractive.

In my experiment, it equates to about 3-4 bucks an hour - assuming 100% acceptance, but I wasn't really going full tilt. And I was primarily just doing the image adjustments for the A9 blockview project at 3 cents a pop. But at the rate people are chewing through HITs they're going to run out of tasks in a matter of hours.

Seriously, I wouldn't mind seeing this bloom into some kind of massively-parallel data sweatshop. It's not much different than entry level cube-slaving, task-wise. I've done grueling data-entry and modern computerized clerical work. It's not an easy or rewarding job.

But 90% of the suck involved in such mundane tasking is usually the hateful part about having to actually get up, get dressed to office specs and actually go somewhere crappy while doing the work on shitty computers, with shitty keyboards, while sitting in crappy chairs. And then sometimes they won't even let you bring your own headphones and music in to dull the soul-rending pain.

Doing this kind of work at home makes it soooo much nicer. The keyboard is familar and favored. The computer is mine, and loaded with music and utilities and all needed permissions. The internet connection is mine and unfiltered. The bathroom is right there, and it is mine. The coffee machine is right there, and it too is mine. The coffee in it is good, and decidedly lacking the urine of disgruntled office miscreants. The music is mine, and it can be loud and crazy and brash, or it can be soft and subtle, and not drowned out by office noise. The lighting is mine, the window is mine. The ashtray and that bottle of hooch on the desk is mine, and it's all good.

Because you're judged on an item-by-item performance via the acceptance system. Your performance is the only thing that matters, not your lifestyle choices or the fact you decided to not wear pants to work that day.

Also, it would probably be a fascinating thing to include the mturk features in an appropriate software project. "I can call up real live humans as objects in my code? SWEET! I HAVE TEH POWAR!!!"

In all earnestness, if Amazon can implement this on a larger scale in an equitable manner - and find a broader market for the services - I'm all for it.
posted by loquacious at 1:39 AM on November 4, 2005 [1 favorite]

"How many hits you got? Lots."
The copy on the front page sounds alternately like a hired assassin programme and hot-housing frat meet.
posted by NinjaPirate at 2:45 AM on November 4, 2005

Abs and format, musical brothers kid, (step in the studio, it's just another hit)

See I got hits kid, so many hits, how many hits you got? Lots
Exemplary metaphors, let me select a few
More hits than when you play blackjack with a deck of twos
More hits than latin percussionists administer to wood blocks

--DJ Format Featuring Abdominal
posted by Optamystic at 3:35 AM on November 4, 2005

re: Is it a scam?

mturk.amazon.com redirects to mturk.com so I'd say it's legit.
posted by glider at 5:40 AM on November 4, 2005

This will prove to be a great way to get people to perform simple, menial tasks for a bare minimum of money.

So it's more like a mechanical Tom Sawyer?
posted by fungible at 5:52 AM on November 4, 2005

bad design kills!
posted by gorgor_balabala at 7:33 AM on November 4, 2005

Man, the site got slashdotted. So long, responsiveness! I guess that means slashdot + MeFi > Amazon
posted by antifuse at 7:45 AM on November 4, 2005

How does the acceptance process work? Can I get paid 5 cents per to decide if people are right or not?

Also, fungible wins. Way better analogy than the Turk. There was a link a while back where they fashioned a flash game around the training of an algorithm. I suppose that would be the true "mechanical Tom Sawyer." But hey, at least they are willing to pay cash instead of Amazonbucks.
posted by iloveit at 11:26 AM on November 4, 2005

So you do their work *and* they make sure you buy stuff at amazon.com. Genius!
posted by Harry at 12:03 PM on November 4, 2005

finally, a job.
posted by 3.2.3 at 2:15 PM on November 4, 2005

So it's more like a mechanical Tom Sawyer?

Well, today's Tom Sawyer, he gets high on you - and the space he invades? He gets by on you.
posted by nanojath at 9:04 PM on November 4, 2005

loquacious -- that was beautiful.
posted by dreamsign at 9:57 PM on November 4, 2005

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