Amazon Mechanical Turk

Amazon has taken the brilliantly evil “using porn to defeat captcha” idea and put it to good use in their experimental Amazon Mechanical Turk. (The name comes from 18th Century chess automaton hoax, where the chess-playing “robot” actually consisted of a chess master dwarf moving the levers, as this page explains).

The Amazon system provides a framework for companies to formalize tasks that humans are good at but computers aren’t. It’s being used to refine A9’s search/local photo database right now, with residents of certain cities asked to pick the best street photo for a given business, out of the set taken by the A9 camera vans; GPS’s margin of error can easily give you the wrong storefront, but a computer can’t know that. This can obviously be generalized, and the Net gives ways to harness the spare cycles available in the human brain.

This BusinessWeek article has some commentators that have been able to register on the very busy system, earning more or less minimum wage during their down time. I’m waiting for some gym to install “Mechanical Turk” panels on their elliptical machines.

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