Monday, December 06, 2010

Mechanical Turks

I stayed up late last night finishing up a project and I actually finished it. This is a very good thing because for the last few days my to-do list has been exactly the same. Everyday. I hadn't finished any of the projects that I started but last night that changed, which made me very happy.

Andrew stayed up late finishing a project, too.

When we finally went to bed I said, "Oh, man! Tomorrow is Monday. That means I have to work. I don't know that I have any motivation to work."

"You're working to send me to Ghana! There's some motivation!"

"Oh, goody. I get to work my tail-end off so you can go to Ghana. See how motivated I am about that?"

I showed him my best that-doesn't-motivate-me face.

"You're working to take our whole family to Washington, DC, for an internship this summer!"

Hopefully. But have I mentioned we've been passing a cold around our family? It's my turn with it.

"That's a little more motivation. But I just don't feel good."

"But you're a Mechanical Turk! You have to go to work!"

"You probably should just give up trying to compliment me," I told him, "Ever."

(He once told me, "Your hair is the colour of...very old wood." Giving compliments is not his forte.)

"Oh, Mechanical Turk isn't a compliment. It's what you are."

He then proceeded to tell me a very inaccurate story of what Mechanical Turks are. I will tell you a slightly more accurate version. The original Mechanical Turk was a humanoid-robotic "machine" that could play chess—but the only reason the machine worked was because there was a man sitting inside the "machine" animating its every move. Other similar machines have been made, including the "Ajeeb" (which means "strange" in Arabic; it's a good thing he didn't call me that!).

In more recent years, the term Mechanical Turk has been brought back into use by They have a human task-force that is coordinated to do programming tasks that a computer should hypothetically be able to accomplish but is incapable of doing.

And that is so entirely what my job is. The computer goes through to create the corpus, finding specific instances of a given word and offering me several definitions. Unfortunately, the computer can't select which definition is the correct definition because the computer doesn't understand the sentence. Fortunately, I do. And I get paid to. I'm a Mechanical Turk. I am that bit of human-touch behind the machine—the man behind the curtain.

And I'm currently thinking about joining Amazon's Turk squad. After all, I have a husband to send to Ghana!

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