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What exactly is the Amazon Mechanical Turk? The best explanation comes from the original Mechanical Turk. In 1779, Wolfgang von Kempelen created The Turk, an intricate and amazing chess machine – an “automaton” – complete with moving gears and cogs and a life-sized model of a man with a beard, dressed in Turkish robes and a turban. The automated “machine” could best some of the best chess players in the world. It wasn’t until many years later that the secret of the mechanical Turk – an expert chess player hidden inside the cabinets – was publicly revealed.
What does this have to do with Amazon? Amazon named its crowdsourcing solution the Amazon Mechanical Turk because, much like the original Turk, much of the inner workings of the overall system remains hidden from the user. The process is an illusion, but the result is nothing short of miraculous. Amazon calls the illusion, “artificial artificial intelligence.”
The process is fairly simple. Mechanical Turk requesters submit a Human Intelligence Task (a HIT), and Mechanical Turk Workers complete those HITs for either small sums of money or simply for the feeling of accomplishment. The end result is that requesters receive processing power for tasks that computers can’t handle – like analyzing videos and writing a short keyword-rich synopsis, or reviewing produce images and appropriately categorizing them. These are the tasks where human intelligence still trumps computer intelligence.
How You Can Become an Amazon Mechanical Turk Worker
You may wonder why anyone would want to work for free? Well, consider this. How many times have you decided to take a break and complete a crossword puzzle or play a challenging video game, just to give your mind a rest from the task that you were otherwise focused on? What if completing such brain-resetting tasks would also net you a little bit of money while you’re taking a “break” from your normal work? This is why crowdsourcing works. Recently, John showed you how to make money from crowdsourcing design contests. In this article I’m going to show you how you can use the Amazon Mechanical Turk system to extract a little bit of spending cash from your Zen time.
As you can see from the main page, you can either submit HITs for the crowd to work on, or you can sign in as a worker and start plugging away at completing hits. When I just checked it, there are over 34,000 HITs available in the marketplace, so there’s no shortage of cool stuff to do. The moment you sign up, you’ll see your profile page which shows your current balance your accepted and submitted HITs, and some HITs that are available to you.
Now, if you click on the HITs tab at the top of the page, you’ll see all of the tasks that are currently available for you to grab. If you’re here for the money and not just the fun, I highly suggest that you sort by the reward amount. As you can see, the requested tasks are extremely varied and run the whole gamut of weird and interesting things to do.
If you live in or near Venice, Italy, then by all means print out the poster and put it up at the specified location! Or, if you prefer, edit a transcript, take a survey or transcribe a voicemail. Sifting through the available HITs is a lot of fun, and you’re sure to find something cool to do that actually won’t really feel like work as you pass the time just plugging away – taking your mind off of whatever stress it was that brought you here in the first place.
As you can see, the reward you get for completing certain tasks are just as varied as the tasks themselves. For transcribing audio that’s about an hour and a half, you get over $40. For printing and putting up a poster, you get $15. For taking a survey, you get $4.20. Now, the question remains for those of you who’ve never done this before – is it legit and do you really get paid? Well, as you could see on my profile page above, I’ve never completed a single task and have $0 in my balance.
I noticed many of the high-paying jobs are surveys that want you to sign up for something, providing your contact information, so we’ll avoid those. Also, a few of the requests below that want a 200 to 300 word article for about $1.50 (say what??) – no dice. Finally, I found an easy 5 minute task for checking out a website and leaving a comment for an improvement to the site. Find the code, insert and submit. For doing that, I also toss $0.05 into my account. Easy! Let’s do it.
So, accepted the HIT, checked out the blog, left a comment with some advice on how it could be improved, got my code and submitted it into the form above – it took less than two minutes.
The payment process isn’t instant. Even when you’re done, the requester has to approve that you correctly completed the HIT.
If you click on the Account Settings page, this is where you can add your bank account information and instantly transfer your reward cash to your bank account (or to an Amazon gift certificate).
After reviewing the Amazon Mechanical Turk, my summary is that it is a great place to go just to see what sort of quirky projects people are working on throughout the web, and to earn a few pennies doing small tasks that you might enjoy. Some people are obsessed about proofreading – so edit away. Other people love critiquing websites – so critique away.
I would never suggest using Amazon Mechanical Turk to earn decent income, as the time required for some of these tasks make it impossible to earn enough to make up for that time. However, if you find joy in doing some of these things and it’s a way that you find relaxation as you pass the time, then the extra pennies that pile up are simply a small extra bonus that you wouldn’t get if you spent your Zen time filling out crossword puzzles.
Take the Amazon Turk for a test drive and let us know what you think in the comments section below.
Image: Wikimedia Commons