Xtech 2006: Jeff Barr – Building Software With Human Intelligence

Amazon have released a number of APIs, but going to focus on the Mechanical Turk.

[He has ‘ground rules’ and says ‘please feel free to write about my talk’. Er… command and control anyone? Give me a break.]

[Lots of guff about Amazon.]

Artificial artificial intelligence.

The original Mechanical Turk was a chess playing robot. No one could figure out how it worked. Turns out there was a ‘chessmaster contortionist’ inside.

So the MTurk is powers by people. Machines can’t tell the difference between a table and a chair, whereas a person can do it immediately.

HIT – Human Intelligence Task.

Can check people have the appropriate skills, e.g. be able to speak Chinese or tell a chair from a table.

So you make a request, say what skills etc. are required, figure out the fee you’re willing to pay. Workers go to MTurk.com. 45 types of work, can filter by price or skills required etc. Transcriptions are very popular. E.g. CastingWords.com do transcriptions of podcasts. Question and answer kinds of things.

You decide if your workers get paid, but there are ratings on both sides, so you can rate the employers as well as the workers.

Software Developers

– can use APIs with this to include humans in their applications


– can get stuff done that humans need to do


– can make money

– new businesses feasible

Public use – massive scale image clean-up, i.e. which picture best represents the thing it’s of? Got Slash-Dotted to death. People did greasemonkey scripts to help them doing it. Had so many people doing this that they ran out of images. Had more workers than work for a while.

HIT Builder, helps you create your HIT (task thing).

Could use it for market research or surveys. E.g. wanted a survey for developers, so added some qualifications to weed out the non-developers by making people answer questions like ‘which of these four aren’t programming languages’.

Translations services.

Translate written transcripts to audio.

Image Den, photo editing and retouching, e.g. removing red-eye, cutting things up etc.

CastingWords, podcast transcription service.

Need an Amazon account to work, which requires a credit card, and that’s their way of trying to ensure no child labour.

[I think this could possibly have been an interesting talk, but it wasn’t. I like the idea of having APIs for something like MTurk, but this guy was really dull. I guess I could cut and paste from the back channel to spice things up a bit, but that might be mean.]

Comments are closed.