What Is Mechanical Turk? aka MTurk[edit | edit source]
Mechanical Turk is an online work processing center created by Amazon that acts as a medium between "Workers" and "Requesters" who advertise Human intelligence tasks or HIT's, that can be completed by anyone in the general US public who is over 18 and has access to a computer and the internet through American servers. Although the site was originally designed by Amazon as a helpful way of finding cheap contract workers to delete duplicate sales pages, many other uses for the site have since surfaced. These new and creative ways to use the site has helped reduce costs and time investment for all sorts of tasks that can be performed online.
Since its origins in 2005, Mechanical Turk has move beyond the realms of internet advertising and business communities like Amazon. In addition to computer programming, other tasks that require moments of human effort are things like political and opinion polling, academic research and demographic surveying have now been exercised using MTurk. It is steadily becoming more and more apparent that MTurk can become an effective tool if not invaluable tool for government workers, special interests groups and most importantly to academics like professors and students conducting social research.
What is a "Human intelligence task" aka HIT[edit | edit source]
A HIT is a task that requires a series of brief decision-making actions, which are very difficult for computers, but are generally very easy for humans to complete. This is because these types of decisions often require personal opinion or personal experience that help individuals establish viewpoints and understandings about the world and society that computers lack. Original Tasks were things like, deleting near duplicate pages for Amazon that were easy for people to spot but difficult for a computer even if one window or word differs. Common HIT's on MTurk now include editing/ deleting web pages, opinion polls, social science surveys, and seemingly largely mundane internet tasks, such as following instructions to information on the internet and then posting it into a provided window and submitting it to complete the task.
History[edit | edit source]
Mechanical Turk or MTurk was launched into the public domains of the nets by Amazon on December 2ed 2005 and is still considered to be in developmental stages as of January 2014. The need for mechanical Turk began with Amazon having the problem of duplicate or nearly duplicate webpages selling the same products, and so they wanted to have the duplicate pages removed. The system was also designed as a solution to save money by paying volunteer users or "contract workers," small fixed wages (cents on the dollar) to perform "Human Intelligence Tasks" (HITs) on computers. A HIT is basically a task that requires independent decision making that cannot be done by a computer and therefore must be done by a human. Because these sorts of tasks are difficult for computers but relatively easy for people, Amazon decided that hiring contractors rather than employees had the greater benefits of allowing amazon to avoid bureaucratic processes like the hiring processes, paying taxes, and minimum wage laws to name the most obvious. Historical Namesake: The name came from a Hoax in the 1700s. Apparently there was this chess playing machine that traveled Europe that could beat everyone (including Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin). However the machine was actually just a box with a chess master hiding inside, just like with Mechanical Turk where it seems a computer is doing the work but there is really a real person being hidden on the other side.
How MTurk works?[edit | edit source]
Mechanical Turk is owned and operated by Amazon and therefor works much like amazon does. First the Requestor who is creating the task and is asking for the assistance of workers in completing whatever the HIT is, posts the HIT to Mechanical Turk. The one who posts the HIT, the "requester" offers a small amount of monetary incentive usually between $0.05 and $0.50 but it could be more or less. Then the Requestor simply waits for workers to come along and complete the task until their funds for the task are exhausted or they cut off the source. Once the worker completes the task they submit it to the requestor who then has 48 hours to approve the work and authorize a payment to the workers. This means that the workers account and the requestor posting the HIT's must be connected through amazon via an amazon payment accounts, that both the requestor and worker sets up when creating a user account. The workers can then decide to have the money transferred to an existing bank account or it can be used as credit to make purchases through Amazon.
How to use MTurk?[edit | edit source]
After you create an Amazon account you can use mechanical Turk as either a Worker or as a Requester. However in order to be a Requester you also need to have created your HIT's and have them approved by Amazon or an institution that has Amazons permission to authorize HIT's such as an business or academic institution. As a Requester you also have to have a monetary fund attached to your Amazon account so that your workers can be paid via their Amazons accounting services. As a Worker you can sign into your account from the MTurk home page and begin browsing and completing HIT's as right away. After you submit your completed tasks may have to wait for a 48 hour conformation so that your work can be reviewed (to make sure it is correct and complete) before your payment funds are deposited into your Amazon account. As a Mechanical Turk Worker you: (This group is basically made up of voluntary Contract worker)
- Can work from home
- Choose your own work hours
- Get paid for doing good work
- Must have a Amazon account
- Must be accessing the internet through a US server.
As a Mechanical Turk Requester you: (This Group is largely made up of employers, programmers and academics)
- Have access to a global, on-demand, 24 x 7 workforce
- Get thousands of HITs completed in minutes
- Pay only when you're satisfied with the results
- Must have your HIT's attached to a monetary account to fund/pay your Workers via Amazon
The first step to using Mechanical Turk a either a Worker or Requester is by going to the webpage From there the first step is creating an account and begin browsing the available HIT's. First you select a HIT by clicking View Then begin by clicking Accept hit. Then you simply follow the instructions to complete that task. The first one I got was literately "write a beautiful sentence." Although it may seem obscure this task could be helping some social linguist complete his/her PhD somewhere.
Who Uses Mechanical Turk?[edit | edit source]
Anyone who is over 18 can become a mechanical Turk worker by accessing the webpage online to start complete HIT's.  Reaserch on who uses MTurk has found that MTurk workers actually make up an accurate sample of internet users in the united states. A large number of people who are especially active on the internet and therefor MTurk are young adults the unemployed, Stay at home parents and people who are in-between jobs or unemployed tend to invest more time into taking more surveys with low monetary incentive. This makes since if these people have more "unoccupied time" and may be struggling financially making them more dedicated to earning a small income through MTurk.
MTurk as an American based cite, has workers that are limited exclusively to within the borders of the United States making the majority of the users Americans. However as long as the Requesters are conducting their surveys or other MIT tasks through American based institutions they can check and update their accounts from nearly anywhere in the world. This makes it possible for some programmers or academics conduct research, within the continental US from a laptop on a beach in the Bahamas.
Good ways to use mechanical Turk[edit | edit source]
For Social Science Surveys: Taking your time to answer the questions in a way that you feel truly pertains to you. Accurately completing tasks as pertains to the instructions.
Bad ways to use Mechanical Turk[edit | edit source]
For Social Science Surveys: Deliberately providing false or misleading information on intelligence tasks like academic surveys or opinion polls. Speeding through the Task without considering the relevance of one's answers in regards to oneself.
News reviews; Criticisms, problems and limitations[edit | edit source]
One of the largest criticisms of MTurk that it is literally analogous to a "Digital sweat shop," which makes sense because you can spend an hour on a single task and be paid less than a dollar. The average earnings for time exchange actually is about a dollar an hour. Also, because Amazon has set up the site so that completing HIT's is a form of optional contract work they can avoid complications involved with having employees like paying taxes, paying minimum wage, providing benefits and other bureaucratic processes.
Some of the drawbacks to social research are that any sort of study involving children is impossible not only because MTurk users must be over 18 but there are other ethical reasons within fields of the social science. Observational research is also impossible because you obviously cannot observe subjects behavior through HIT's. Basically the types of Data information that Social Scientists can receive through MTurk is Self-report Data, Life-Data and Informant Data to some extent. Observational Data which is often an important element to the credibility of most socially scientific findings are again, impossible.
This may be a dark example of how MTurk could benefit society of your consider that it pays so low and people can become desperate in difficult economic times, but it speaks of positive potential if you consider the possibilities.
"Mechanical Turk is important because in a perfect world, it could be the ultimate hub for the "human cloud" – an amorphous, pan-national, always-on pool of labor usable by corporations and individuals for tasks of any scale. It could provide ready employment for part-time workers in in any country on earth. It could be the ultimate in frictionless, free markets for labor, if you're into that sort of thing." 
MTurk has been questioned as to whether or not it provides a bias sample of workers who are essentially the "subject participants." However sample analysis done on MTurk Workers shows that MTurk workers represent a pretty accurate sample of general internet users in the United States and therefor provides satisfactory results that most social scientists feel is accurate enough to confidently generalize certain findings to the rest of society. [
[edit | edit source]
[ MIT Technology review]
[Post a survey on Mechanical Turk and watch the results roll in, NPR.org]
Wonderful potentials[edit | edit source]
The original excitement for Amazon was the realization they could get all of these tedious tasks done without going through the process of directly hiring programmers. Instead they created a volunteer opportunity to do singular tasks for very small fixed amounts of income. MTurk saves time not only by eliminated the search process for workers but it reduced costs, brought employers and workers together easily and conveniently and provides a model for other social processes to be applied in order to speed up and streamline operations. Although this does seem like a corporate dream of organization and efficiency there are many who would argue that MTurk also holds the potential constructs to facilitate "corporate evil."
However used correctly and with good intentions, Mechanical Turk is particularly interesting is because has the potential to greatly reduce the cost and time investment needed to conduct social research in the forms of many surveys, opinion polls and questioners. This makes Mechanical Turk a potently an invaluable resource for researchers. For example the old fashion way say as psychologist would go about conducting human subject's research may have including having to spend weeks searching the public and posting wanted ads in search for participants who would have to arrange to meet with the psychologist and who the psychologies usually would have to pay a substantial monetary amount for their trouble. MTurk has the potential become an in incredibly useful tool for PhD students in the social sciences. The relatively easy access allows researchers to take chances to try and complete obscure social studies that would have been too risky in the past but now are made simple by MTurk. A compilation of enough of any small kind of study can end in big results some day.
MTurk and systems like it could also be modified to employ millions around the world with "adequate wages," that could help lift millions out of poverty. Again all it requires is the proper intentions and opportunists provides. And it has a long way to go.
Sources[edit | edit source]
[ MTurk.com check it yourself!]]
[ actually making a living off MTurk]
[capstone Student Publican in Psychology that used MTUrk]