The New York Times had an interesting article on Sunday about businesses paying people to do small tasks that computers can’t. For example computers can’t look at a picture and count the number of happy people in a picture. Neither can it easily recognize the difference between a picture of an oak tree and a maple tree. These differences can be important when organizing information. What many search engine companies are doing is outsourcing this work to humans, who can do these kinds of things easily.
Amazon.com has created a site called Mechanical Turk (a mechanical turk recalls a famous 18th-century hoax, where what seemed to be a chess-playing automaton really concealed a human chess master.) where people can sign up to take on Human Intelligence Tasks (HIT). A HIT might consist of looking at a photo and telling if it contains a pizza parlor. A computer would have hard time doing this, but a person can do it in a matter of seconds.
Most HIT’s reward just a few cents for each task, but it all adds up. The article discussed a disabled former military officer spending two hours a day on HITs. He earns about $100 a week. Not too shabby.
Being a mechanical turk seems like an easy way to earn some extra cash while in school. It’s not going to make you rich, but it can at least give you some extra money to pay those bills.
Hat tip to my lovely wife for telling me about the article.