People as a Service

People as a Service

The Turk played chess, it was the basis of the name "The Mechanical Turk" for the AWS service.

Those of you that have been working with the cloud and Amazon for a while now have probably heard of Mechanical Turk, but I thought the concept might be interesting for people who read this but aren’t familiar with it.  Essentially, the Mechanical Turk function allows you to leverage humans to complete tasks that are necessary as part of your workload via a handy little API call.  Why is this so cool?

Well, as far as we’ve come with computers, there are a LOT of things they still don’t do well.  For example, try to get a computer to do any of these things:

  • check if a particular photograph is appropriate for children
  • read a handwritten note
  • create an audio recording
  • check two listings to see if they are actually for the same product
  • transcribe spoken words
  • verify the accuracy of an automated recommendation
  • answer survey questions

Before services like Amazon Mechanical Turk you would have had to hire people to do this for you.  The problem, especially for small companies, is that those people are not always available (only work 9-5 and have a habit of taking vacation or getting sick) and often are no where near fully utilized (if you only have to transcribe 40 minutes of text / day it’s hard to justify an FTE).  With Amazon Mechanical Turk you can build things like this automatically in to your workflow and they’ll get done by the next available resource.  It’s an amazing advance for efficiency.

Note: The Picture is of the original “Turk” (actually a remake of it) from which Amazon Turk derives its name.  It was an automaton chess playing machine that beat Ben Franklin back in the day.  Picture via Wikipedia.