Amazon.com’s Mechanical Turk program has been operating for several years now. It’s quite unlike anything else you’ll find at Amazon in that it’s a place to both make and spend money. Mechanical Turk offers tasks that can be performed (say, looking at 10,000 photographs and identifying which ones have dogs in them) in exchange for a nominal fee. So people who need this kind of work done can get it accomplished cheaply and the people doing the work can do it enough times that the pittances add up.
We talk to Jonathan Zittrain about this. He’s co-founder and co-director of Harvard Univerity’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and joins us occasionally for a series called Mind Blowing Monday. Jonathan says that this type of work is on the rise. It’s not just Amazon.com that’s hosting it either, new companies are springing up all the time that do this same thing.
But there are implications to the work. Because the client and the employee are anonymous to one another in most cases, there’s little understanding of the work being done. So for instance, the government of Iran could hire American citizens to look through photographs of crowds and match the faces with pictures of faces to spot. Those faces could be of dissidents who could then be more easily chased down but the employee would have no idea.
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