Amazon Mechanical Turk is a marketplace for work that requires human intelligence. The Mechanical Turk web service enables companies to programmatically access this marketplace and a diverse, on-demand workforce. Developers can leverage this service to build human intelligence directly into their applications.
While computing technology continues to improve, there are still many things that human beings can do much more effectively than computers, such as identifying objects in a photo or video, performing data de-duplication, transcribing audio recordings or researching data details. Traditionally, tasks like this have been accomplished by hiring a large temporary workforce (which is time consuming, expensive and difficult to scale) or have gone undone.
Mechanical Turk aims to make accessing human intelligence simple, scalable, and cost-effective. Businesses or developers needing tasks done (called Human Intelligence Tasks or “HITs”) can use the robust Mechanical Turk APIs to access thousands of high quality, low cost, global, on-demand workers—and then programmatically integrate the results of that work directly into their business processes and systems. Mechanical Turk enables developers and businesses to achieve their goals more quickly and at a lower cost than was previously possible.
Keep these steps handy as you sign up for Amazon Mechanical Turk:
Mechanical Turk offers access to a virtual community of workers that are available to help you accomplish your business goals. A robust set of APIs and command line tools enable you to programmatically distribute tasks that require human intelligence to a widely distributed, on-demand workforce.
Mechanical Turk allows you to:
Amazon Mechanical Turk provides access to a marketplace of workers whenever your business needs them. Mechanical Turk can connect you to a variety of skill sets and capabilities via a global workforce that can help you to complete your work whenever and wherever you need it.
One of the difficulties that businesses face is dealing with demand spikes for certain types of work. You may have one million images that need to be tagged today, or 100,000 new catalog entries that need to be validated, but only have that need once per month. Amazon Mechanical Turk allows you to get that work done easily when you need it, without the difficulty associated with dynamically scaling your in-house workforce.
Amazon Mechanical Turk provides several mechanisms to help you ensure the quality of the work you receive. In addition to worker qualifications, plurality is another mechanism to help developers maintain high quality levels. This functionality enables multiple workers to submit answers to the same HIT. When a specific number of workers reply back with the same answer, the HIT is automatically approved. Additionally, you only pay for what you deem to be good results; if the output is not up to par you simply reject the work and do not pay the worker.
The overhead and fixed costs associated with hiring and managing a temporary workforce can often be significant. By leveraging the skills of on-demand workers from around the world, you can significantly lower costs while achieving results that might not have even been possible with just a dedicated team.
Amazon Mechanical Turk enables developers to create applications that were previously not possible. From search results enhanced with human input, to automated image identification, to distributed content creation, to podcast-to-text transcription, companies are relying on human intelligence and Amazon Mechanical Turk to power a whole new class of applications.
In order to see how Mechanical Turk might benefit your business, it is helpful to see how others have leveraged the service.
Amazon Mechanical Turk is well-suited for processing images. While difficult for computers, it is a task that is extremely easy for people to do. In the past, companies have used Mechanical Turk to:
Companies with large online directories or catalogs are using Mechanical Turk to identify duplicate entries and verify item details. Examples of this have included:
The diversification and the scale of the Mechanical Turk workforce allow you to gather a breadth of information that would be almost impossible to do otherwise such as:
The following are examples of companies taking advantage of the power of the Mechanical Turk workforce to understand and intelligently respond to different types of data:
One of the best ways to understand Amazon Mechanical Turk is to submit a HIT and see what the experience is like. Visit the Amazon Mechanical Turk web site, http://requester.mturk.com and try it out for yourself.
How a HIT is defined is critical to ensuring you get exactly the information you are seeking at the lowest price. Workers tend to gravitate to HITs that are interesting, straightforward to complete, and provide clear guidance on what they are expected to do. The easier you can make it for workers to complete your HIT, the faster your work will be completed, and the less you will likely need to pay. HITs that are constructed well have very clear questions and instructions. They communicate exactly how the question should be answered and the components that are expected as part of the response. Sample responses can be helpful as well in communicating to the worker exactly the type of response you are looking for.
It is important to keep in mind the dynamics of a marketplace when defining your tasks. Mechanical Turk brings together a pool of workers and companies that need work completed. Workers are free to work on the tasks they find most interesting, the tasks they enjoy completing or the tasks that pay the most. You may choose to offer higher rates for certain high priority tasks in order to attract more workers and increase throughput, while you pay less when you have more flexibility with regard to when it is completed.
HITs can be submitted either through a simple online interface if you want to get started quickly, or by using the Mechanical Turk web services API or the command line tools if you have a large volume of work. When you submit a HIT, you will need to specify how long workers have to complete the work, how many people you want to complete each task, how much you will pay for the work, and specific details around what work you want completed.
Mechanical Turk offers the ability to first qualify workers before they are allowed to work on your tasks. Qualifications can consist of a short series of questions or sample tasks that you ask the workers to complete. You can also require that workers have historically answered a minimum percentage of their submitted HITs correctly. There are several reasons why you might want to qualify workers. Your tasks might require a very specific skill set such as language translation or a particular demographic profile such as only workers that live in Los Angeles. You may also want to use the qualification as a mechanism to “train” your workforce. By requiring workers to go through a quick test, you can show them how you would like your work to be completed and illustrate the kind of responses you expect.
Once your HITs have been completed, they will be available for you via several mechanisms. You can log on to the Mechanical Turk website and view the submitted work. Additionally, you can download all of your completed work via the web services APIs. After you have received the results and have verified the quality of the work, you can approve the work and submit payment to the workers.
Payments for completed HITs are managed by Amazon Payments. Before you can submit HITs to the Amazon Mechanical Turk marketplace, you need to prepay for them with a credit card, bank account, or Amazon Payments account balance. The amount associated with the HIT (price and bonus), along with the commission charged by Amazon Mechanical Turk, is automatically deducted from your Prepaid HIT balance when you approve a HIT result and the worker is paid.
Amazon Mechanical Turk provides tools and resources to help developers learn more about the service and be more productive. This includes code samples, libraries, tutorials, technical documentation and release notes. Find them in our Resource Center.