Q: What is Amazon Mechanical Turk?

In 1769, Hungarian nobleman Wolfgang von Kempelen astonished Europe by building a mechanical chess-playing automaton that defeated nearly every opponent it faced. A life-sized wooden mannequin, adorned with a fur-trimmed robe and a turban, Kempelen’s “Turk” was seated behind a cabinet and toured Europe confounding such brilliant challengers as Benjamin Franklin and Napoleon Bonaparte. To persuade skeptical audiences, Kempelen would slide open the cabinet’s doors to reveal the intricate set of gears, cogs and springs that powered his invention. He convinced them that he had built a machine that made decisions using artificial intelligence. What they did not know was the secret behind the Mechanical Turk: a chess master cleverly concealed inside.

Today, we build complex software applications based on the things computers do well, such as storing and retrieving large amounts of information or rapidly performing calculations. However, humans still significantly outperform the most powerful computers at completing such simple tasks as identifying objects in photographs – something children can do even before they learn to speak.

When we think of interfaces between human beings and computers, we usually assume that the human being is the one requesting that a task be completed, and the computer is completing the task and providing the results. What if this process were reversed and a computer program could ask a human being to perform a task and return the results? What if it could coordinate many human beings to perform a task?

Amazon Mechanical Turk provides a web services API for computers to integrate Artificial Artificial Intelligence directly into their processing by making requests of humans. Developers use the Amazon Mechanical Turk web services API to submit tasks to the Amazon Mechanical Turk web site, approve completed tasks, and incorporate the answers into their software applications. To the application, the transaction looks very much like any remote procedure call – the application sends the request, and the service returns the results. In reality, a network of humans fuels this Artificial Artificial Intelligence by coming to the web site, searching for and completing tasks, and receiving payment for their work.

All software developers need to do is write normal code. The pseudo code below illustrates how simple this can be.

read (photo);
photoContainsHuman = callMechanicalTurk(photo);
if (photoContainsHuman == TRUE){
    acceptPhoto;
}
else {
    rejectPhoto;
}

Q: What problem does Amazon Mechanical Turk solve?

  • For software developers, the Amazon Mechanical Turk Web service solves the problem of building applications that until now have not worked well without human intelligence. Humans are much more effective at solving some types of problems, like finding specific objects in pictures, evaluating beauty, or translating text. The idea of the Amazon Mechanical Turk web service is to give developers a programmable interface to a network of humans to solve these kinds of problems and incorporate this human intelligence into their applications.
  • For businesses and entrepreneurs who want tasks completed, the Amazon Mechanical Turk web service solves the problem of accessing a vast network of human intelligence with the efficiencies and cost-effectiveness of computers. Oftentimes people do not move forward with certain projects because the cost to establish a network of skilled people to do the work outweighs the value of completing it. By turning the fixed costs into variable costs that scale with their needs, the Amazon Mechanical Turk web service eliminates this barrier and allows projects to be completed that before were not economical.
  • For people who want to earn money in their spare time, the Amazon Mechanical Turk web site solves the problem of finding work you can do wherever and whenever you want using the skills you already possess.

Q: Where do people go to learn about submitting work or completing tasks?

  • To learn how to submit work and have tasks completed using the Amazon Mechanical Turk web service, developers and businesses should visit the Amazon Web Services web site at aws.amazon.com/mturk.
  • To make money by completing tasks using the Amazon Mechanical Turk web site, visit mturk.amazon.com.

Q: How do developers ensure their tasks are completed in a high-quality manner?
Developers have several options for ensuring their HITs (Human Intelligence Tasks) are completed in a high-quality manner.

  • Requesters have the opportunity to approve completed HITs before having to pay for them. There are many ways requesters can approve HITs, ranging from auto-approving them sight unseen, to auto-approving them when they receive two answers to the same HIT that match, to manually approving some or all completed HITs.
  • Requesters can specify that people who work on their tasks must first complete a qualification test, thus giving Requesters (developers who submit HITs to the Amazon Mechanical Turk web site) the opportunity to vet the skill level of the people working on their HITs beforehand. * Over time people who do work on the Amazon Mechanical Turk web site will have statistics associated with them based on how accurately they have completed other HITs. These statistics, such as the percentage of HITs they’ve submitted that have been approved, allow Requesters to specify further that only people with certain qualifications can work on their HITs.

Q: Who completes the tasks on Amazon Mechanical Turk and how do they complete them?

  • Virtually anyone can complete tasks on the Amazon Mechanical Turk web site using the skills they already have and according to their own schedule. The only requirements to complete tasks and collect payment from Requesters is a computer connected to the Internet and to be at least 18-years-old.
  • Earning money through the Amazon Mechanical Turk web site is as easy as searching for HITs on the site, reserving those HITs, completing them, and collecting payment once the HIT is approved by the Requester.

Q: What kind of work can be done using Amazon Mechanical Turk? What is an example?

  • Anyone can submit virtually any task that can be completed using a computer connected to the Internet.
  • Amazon came up with the idea for Amazon Mechanical Turk to help solve specific internal data processing problems that required human judgment and intelligence. We quickly realized that we had invented something unique and incredibly useful and decided to expose it externally as a web service so that software developers can create their own innovative applications that use human intelligence as a core component.
  • Some of the tasks currently in the marketplace benefit Amazon’s search subsidiary A9.com. Amazon Mechanical Turk is being used to increase the quality of its A9’s BlockView pictures that show users street-level pictures of businesses. These HITs ask people to select from several photographs the one that best presents the front of a business. Thousands of these HITs are still listed on the Amazon Mechanical Turk web site.

Q: How do people collect money for the tasks they complete?

When a Requester approves a task, Amazon Mechanical Turk automatically deposits money into the Amazon.com account of the individual who completed the task. The account holder can choose to have this money transferred to their U.S. personal bank account or to their Amazon.com account where they can use it to pay for purchases.

Q: Do people who do work have an Amazon.com account?

Yes, we are requiring this because the Amazon Mechanical Turk web service and Amazon Mechanical Turk web site leverage the secure identity and payments infrastructure of Amazon.com.

Q: Can any business use Amazon Mechanical Turk or do they need to understand how to use web services and APIs?

  • Currently, to submit work to the Amazon Mechanical Turk web site, Requesters need a basic understanding of how to use APIs or need to hire a software developer who does.
  • However, we anticipate that software developers will build applications that help people and businesses without technical skills to use the Amazon Mechanical Turk web service. This has been happening for more than three years with developers creating and selling applications that help non-technical Amazon Associates and Amazon Marketplace Sellers use Amazon Web Services to improve their businesses.

Q: How are Amazon.com and Amazon Mechanical Turk connected?

Amazon Mechanical Turk is a subsidiary of Amazon.com.

Q: How does Amazon make money from Amazon Mechanical Turk?

Amazon.com collects a fee of 10 percent on top of what Requesters pay to have tasks completed. For example, if a HIT pays $0.20, Amazon Mechanical Turk collects $0.02. The minimum commission charged is $0.005 per HIT.

Q: Can international Requesters use Amazon Mechanical Turk to get tasks completed?

Requesters must provide a U.S. ACH-enabled bank account and a U.S. billing address in order to submit a request for tasks to be completed through the Amazon Mechanical Turk web site. If a Requester is not a legal entity, but is submitting tasks to Amazon Mechanical Turk as an individual, he or she would also need to provide a U.S. driver’s license number.

Q: How is Amazon Mechanical Turk related to Amazon Web Services?

Amazon Web Services continues to expose Amazon technology and data that software developers can use as building blocks for their applications. Amazon came up with the idea for Amazon Mechanical Turk to help solve specific internal data processing problems that required human judgment and intelligence. We quickly realized that we had invented something unique and useful and decided to expose it externally as a web service.

Q: Why is Amazon Mechanical Turk in beta?

  • Amazon prefers to test new web services with developers before officially releasing them. During this time, we solicit feedback from our users and constantly make changes to enhance the offering.
  • We plan to continue adding features, but right now the service is fully functional for both developers and people doing tasks. This means the tasks are real and the money that developers pay people to work on those tasks are real.