November 08, 2005
Everything is an API: Amazon's Mechanical Turk

Amazon recently introduced the Amazon Mechanical Turk (in beta, naturally), an interface by which programmers can insert tasks for humans into their code. Amazon will turn around and farm the tasks out to people willing to determine "which of these photographs best resepresents the 'Psychic Believers' storefront" for a few cents a pop.

All software developers need to do is write normal code. The pseudo code below illustrates how simple this can be.

 read (photo);
 photoContainsHuman = callMechanicalTurk(photo);
 if (photoContainsHuman == TRUE) {
 else {

There's evidently an eager pool of people ready to become subroutines -- overwhelming the beta site on which Amazon is using the identifications to match storefronts to the "Find it on the block" feature of its A9 search.

For the humans in the loop, completing these "human intelligence tasks" isn't a road to riches. If you could match 3 images a minute, you'd barely make minimum wage. On the other hand, it might be more profitable than doodling during a dull conference call.

For developers of hybrid applications, Amazon's offering an infrastructure for outsourcing: a generic API to call upon an army of workers ready for photo matching, distributed proof reading, or CAPTCHA deciphering. For Amazon, it's a commission each time someone uses their matchmaking services.

Funny, science fiction writers told us that we'd become part cyborg by implanting computers into ourselves and harnessing their processing power for human goals. I guess we're entering the Matrix instead.

Posted by Wendy at November 08, 2005 12:13 PM | TrackBack
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