« The all-seeing eye | Main | Search is a commodity (again) »

HITs for HAL

November 04, 2005

Amazon.com has out-googled Google with its creepily brilliant Mechanical Turk service, a means of embedding human beings in software code. If you're writing a program that requires a task that people can do better than computers (identifying buildings in a photograph, say), you can write a few lines of code to tap into the required human intelligence through Mechanical Turk. The request automatically gets posted on the Turk site, and people carry out the Human Intelligence Task, or HIT, for a fee set by the programmer, with Amazon taking a commission.

As Amazon explains, this turns the usual computer-human interface on its, uh, head:

When we think of interfaces between human beings and computers, we usually assume that the human being is the one requesting that a task be completed, and the computer is completing the task and providing the results. What if this process were reversed and a computer program could ask a human being to perform a task and return the results? What if it could coordinate many human beings to perform a task?

I have no clue how useful Mechanical Turk will prove immediately, but Philipp Lenssen (who foresaw the service in a remarkable post earlier this year) thinks the "potential is immense." Certainly, the implications are mind-bending. In an essay I discussed last week, George Dyson described how the Internet provides a platform, or operating system, that enables computers to harness and learn from the work of people: "Operating systems make it easier for human beings to operate computers. They also make it easier for computers to operate human beings." Google uses this capacity implicitly by basing its search engine on human actions and decisions - as we make our daily strolls through the Web, Google gets smarter. Amazon's Mechanical Turk uses the capacity explicitly, turning people into a "human layer" in software.

But let's not get too comfortable in our new role. No one, after all, is indispensable.

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.roughtype.com/cgi-bin/MT32b/mt-tb.cgi/216

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference HITs for HAL:

» http://madisonian.net/archives/2005/11/04/419/ from madisonian.net
You want spinning head stuff, Mike? How’s this for another Dysonian techdervish? Amazon has announced Amazon Mechanical Turk, in honor of von Kempelen’s 18th century chess playing automaton. (Big hat tip to Nicholas Carr’s Rough Ty... [Read More]

Tracked on November 4, 2005 07:52 PM

» Coding Humans Into Your Security Apps from Sean Convery
Nicholas Carr’s blog alerted me to a fascinating new service from Amazon called Mechanical Turk. It is named after the mechanical chess-playing automaton with a human hid inside from the late 1700s. The basic idea is through a web-services API y... [Read More]

Tracked on November 7, 2005 02:51 PM

» Mechanical Turk Can Make You Rich!!!!!!!!! from Blunderford
For people unable to move because they weigh 700 pounds, this might be a good program. They can earn some money while not having to move (which they can't), so it's better than a job that requires them to move (which they can't). Otherwise, the progr... [Read More]

Tracked on November 7, 2005 05:47 PM

» MS Singularity causes a sensation (and open source puzzle) from Computerworld Blogs
In today's IT Blogwatch, we look at Microsoft's Singularity OS research project. Not to mention an open source LED puzzle-blocks game, which "brings the flexibility inherent in digital software to a physical tile that people can touch and interact wi [Read More]

Tracked on November 14, 2005 02:37 PM

Comments

Post a comment




Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)

carrshot5.jpg Subscribe to Rough Type

Now in paperback:
shallowspbk2.jpg Pulitzer Prize Finalist

"Riveting" -San Francisco Chronicle

"Rewarding" -Financial Times

"Revelatory" -Booklist

Order from Amazon

Visit The Shallows site

The Cloud, demystified: bigswitchcover2thumb.jpg "Future Shock for the web-apps era" -Fast Company

"Ominously prescient" -Kirkus Reviews

"Riveting stuff" -New York Post

Order from Amazon

Visit Big Switch site

Greatest hits

The amorality of Web 2.0

Twitter dot dash

The engine of serendipity

The editor and the crowd

Avatars consume as much electricity as Brazilians

The great unread

The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock's avatar

Flight of the wingless coffin fly

Sharecropping the long tail

The social graft

Steve's devices

MySpace's vacancy

The dingo stole my avatar

Excuse me while I blog

Other writing

Is Google Making Us Stupid?

The ignorance of crowds

The recorded life

The end of corporate computing

IT doesn't matter

The parasitic blogger

The sixth force

Hypermediation

More

The limits of computers: Order from Amazon

Visit book site

Rough Type is:

Written and published by
Nicholas Carr

Designed by

JavaScript must be enabled to display this email address.

What?