March 25, 2007

Bezos’ Mechanical Turk [1:01 pm]

Artificial Intelligence, With Help From the Humans

COMPUTERS still do some things very poorly. Even when they pool their memory and processors in powerful networks, they remain unevenly intelligent. Things that humans do with little conscious thought, such as recognizing patterns or meanings in images, language or concepts, only baffle the machines.

[...] The problem has prompted a spooky, but elegant, business idea: why not use the Web to create marketplaces of willing human beings who will perform the tasks that computers cannot? Jeff Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon.com, has created Amazon Mechanical Turk, an online service involving human workers, and he has also personally invested in a human-assisted search company called ChaCha. Mr. Bezos describes the phenomenon very prettily, calling it “artificial artificial intelligence.”

“Normally, a human makes a request of a computer, and the computer does the computation of the task,” he said. “But artificial artificial intelligences like Mechanical Turk invert all that. The computer has a task that is easy for a human but extraordinarily hard for the computer. So instead of calling a computer service to perform the function, it calls a human.”

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