We envision a future in which the repetitive, manual labor is performed by robots with human overseers. But suppose we are headed for the reverse? Computers are brighter than us, after all. Via Technology Review:
Stephanie Hamilton is part of something larger than herself. She’s part of a computer program.
The 38-year-old resident of Kingston, Jamaica, recently began performing small tasks assigned to her by an algorithm running on a computer in Berkeley, California. That software, developed by a startup called MobileWorks, represents the latest trend in crowdsourcing: organizing foreign workers on a mass scale to do routine jobs that computers aren’t yet good at, like checking spreadsheets or reading receipts.
According to company cofounder Anand Kulkarni, the aim is to get the crowd of workers to “behave much more like an automatic resource than like individual and unreliable human beings.” The value of tasks is set so that workers can reasonably earn $2 to $4 an hour; payments are on a sliding scale, with lower rates for poorer countries.
The best-known crowd marketplace is Mechanical Turk, which Amazon launched in 2005. The website operates as an online odd-job market where humans earn a few pennies at a time by carrying out low-level, repetitive tasks that machines have difficulty with, such as identifying objects in photographs.
Amazon’s marketplace was a revolutionary idea. Now several startups, including CrowdFlower and CrowdSource, have written software that works on top of Mechanical Turk, adding ways to test and rank workers.