Amazon’s Mechanical Turk Service

By | July 8, 2007

Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service is one of those relatively little known secrets on the Web. You don’t see it on their homepage or anywhere else. But for those in the know, it can be a resource to earn a little extra money (not much) or get an offbeat article written.

Usually, people go to Amazon to buy books, and shop for other stuff. But Amazon have been developing their own projects, and Amazon Mechanical Turk is one of these projects. It’s an artificial intelligence project that uses human intelligence to assist computers in solving problems. Based on an old historical chess playing robot called the Turk, Amazon’s Mechanical Turk is computer vs human role playing reversed.

According to their site, the Amazon Web Services branch is also using this as a way to improve the A9 search engine, in tasks such as improving the search engine’s Blockview pictures. Currently, image tagging is a very popular task there, because it’s easy for humans but almost impossible for AI to solve.

Normally, humans make requests of computers and the computers solve our problems; in the case of the Amazon Mechanical Turk, the computers make requests of humans and humans help the AI to accomplish tasks that they are unable to do, so to speak. It’s used a lot by software developers to improve their applications, but it can also be used to source for article writers who may be willing to write short articles for a fee, for example. Amazon collects 10% on top of what Requestors pay to have their tasks completed.

The system comprises :

  • Requesters (companies/individuals who present tasks/problems called HITs)
  • HITs (Human Intelligence Tasks which are assignments that are best solved by humans)
  • Workers (The people who solve the tasks/problems/assignments)

The requirements are:

  • For Workers, you need a US bank account, be above 18 years old, and have an Amazon account. Your payments are through US checks or exchanged for Amazon gift certificates.
  • For Requesters, you need a US ACH bank account that is funded, and a US billing address, in order to make payments to workers and Amazon.

This is actually something like a hybrid of the old Google Answers, and some ELance or RentACoder kind of thing. The payouts are very low, usually amounting to a few cents per HIT. If you want to earn anything sufficient, obviously you would need to solve LOTs of HITs.

The value of Amazon Mechanical Turk is actually for the Requestors. You have full rights over the submissions you receive, according to the sites terms of use. You just need to specify VERY thoroughly what you want done, and there are a few things to remember:

  • You need to fund your Amazon account with a US checking account and provide a US driver’s license. I know that rules out a lot of potential non US Requestors, but then again Amazon Mechanical Turk is still in beta (for the past 1.5 years since inception).
  • You can only accept the work done or reject it. You can’t ask the Worker to ammend anything, and you also wouldn’t know their names, unless you asked them upfront BEFORE the work is done.
  • You can ask for a Workers Qualifications before they start work. You can also accept or reject the work done, but that’s not too nice, is it?

For a comprehensive overview of the Amazon Mechanical Turk program, head over to the MTurk site page here.

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