A New Young Turk, from Amazon

You want “spinning-head stuff,” Mike? How’s this for another Dysonian techdervish?

Amazon has announced Amazon Mechanical Turk, named in honor of von Kempelen’s 18th century chess playing automaton.
(Big hat tip to Nicholas Carr’s Rough Type, here.)

What does the service do? It let’s a program post Requests for Work that we humble folk out here can perform and return for the AIs in there. Wild …


The Amazon FAQ page explaining Turk basics is worth a full read. Indeed, it’s worth a few full reads, just to let the elegance of the idea sink in.

Here, however, are some juicy excerpts …

The question to which Turk is the (astounding!) answer?

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?

The Turk answers by … wait for it … networking the human intelligence:

For software developers, the Amazon Mechanical Turk web service solves the problem of building applications that until now have not worked well because they lack human intelligence. Humans are much more effective than computers at solving some types of problems, like finding specific objects in pictures, evaluating beauty, or translating text. The idea of the Amazon Mechanical Turk web service is to give developers a programmable interface to a network of humans to solve these kinds of problems and incorporate this human intelligence into their applications.

In short: wow.

Nicholas Carr makes the connection with a Dyson essay different from the one that Mike discussed earlier. He also points to Philipp Lenssen’s March 25, 2005 post, entitled “CHI, a Collaborative Human Interpreter,” which describes the CHI as “a programming language to query a human brain.” (Lenssen’s take on Turk is here.)

Mr. Carr pulls just the right nugget from Dyson … namely: “Operating systems make it easier for human beings to operate computers. They also make it easier for computers to operate human beings.”