A global workforce for one man businesses.

Amazon Mechanical Turk

Coming across an article on the BBC website last week set me aback a bit. It describes a camera that prints out a description of what it has just taken a picture of. “What kind of witchery is this?” I hear you ask. Well it’s both much simpler and potentially more world changing than it appears at first hearing.

Much like the original Mechanical Turk, which purported to be a chess playing machine or engine, but transpired (cf. Oz, Wizard thereof) to be operated by a concealed person, there are people supplying the real smarts.

What happens when a picture is taken is that it is uploaded to an internet address. Monitoring that address is an amazon service called amazon mechanical turk which is like a task brokerage. People who have signed on to the service are passed HITs (Human Intelligence Tasks) such as the photo and perform the required task, in this case providing a brief description of the picture. For this the taker of the picture pays a small sum (In this case $1.25 per shot). This seems reasonably cheap to me as long as the picture is delivered fairly quickly (Within a couple of minutes say).

For the person doing the task, who needs a seat in an internet cafe and a reasonable command of english (Or the client’s required language), lets say it’s a dollar for a couple of minutes work after amazon has taken its cut. This compares very well with call centre work, in fact if you can keep a reasonably full in-tray and do say 20 an hour on average it’s pretty near average UK pay.

The structure provided seems very promising to me, companies can acquire an ad-hoc workforce as large as they need, across time zones so providing 24 hour service without unsociable hours pay, without ever becoming employers or providing office space and equipment. Workers anywhere can work for very many employers, through a single point of contact, as much or as little as they wish. A transaction then takes place providing a service, regardless of international boundaries, to the satisfaction of two equal parties who have never met.

You can read the BBC article here.

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