Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Mechanical Turk?

In the 18th Century, Wolfgang von Kempelen invented a chess-playing robot or automaton. It was a man-sized machine made to look Turkish--and appropriately called "The Turk." It was very, very good at playing chess, and von Kempelen won much fame for his invention. It supposedly bested Napolean and Benjamin Franklin. After some time it was revealed that The Turk was not an automaton at all. A chess master hid inside the contraption and controlled the device. Everyone was very dissapointed, except for Big Blue which breathed a sigh of relief, and William Gates who loved the smoke and mirrors of the idea.

Apparently in 2005, Amazon.com developed a program called Mechanical Turk. It is a clearinghouse for web searches and information. Users can post questions, research ideas, and data gathering requests on a board, and after some time, answers come pouring back in (all for a small fee). What's happening, though is that users sign up and take the jobs, do the research and get paid. Humans looking like computers. Hence the name. It reminds me of that "box display" at the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics this Summer, the one where the boxes were moving up and down, making incredible displays and designs and, at the end, it was revealed that the whole thing was done by people inside them.

I'm posting about this for several reasons. First, if you're interested in making some coin, consider signing up. You'd have to take gobs of jobs to make even a little money, but if you're surfing the web anyway, it beats doing it for free.

Second, I'm amazed that I just now discovered this. I shop at Amazon a lot. Mechanical Turk is a compelling, quirky idea. It's been around for three years. It testifies to how huge the web is (as if you doubted it before).

Third, it's just a cool idea. Very old-school, yet web 2.0-kind-of-thing.

Have fun.