Outsourcing the small stuff

When I was home for Thanksgiving break, my brothers told me that for a fee you can get Chinese kids to play video games for you. Why? Because some online adventure/role-playing games are so tedious and boring at times that you’d prefer to pay someone to beat those areas for you so you can enjoy the fun parts. I had no idea this existed, but this week the New York Times confirmed it: Ogre to Slay? Outsource it to China. It’s interesting how such a disparity in income can turn one man’s play into another man’s work. Only the internet could make this sort of arbitrage possible, and you have to feel good about this flow of disposable income to low-income countries.

On a similar note, recently introduced a service called the Mechanical Turk. It’s not really mechanical, but the name is based on a famous hoax from 18th century wherein a large machine was built to play chess against famous people (it beat Ben Franklin) but actually had a chess master inside.’s Mechanical Turk allows people to perform Human Intelligence Tasks for money. The tasks have little to do with being intelligent and everything to do with being human. Questions might include “What is written on this CD case?” or “Does this photo contain a grocery store?” They are tasks that would be difficult or impossible for a computer but which are easy for a human. And Amazon is willing to pay for them to be done. (Though not very much — I did it for 5 minutes and only made $0.15. I’m sure rates vary.) Some of the tasks are to double-check the tasks others have done. Amazon uses this information for its book search and A9 local search.

The interesting thing about the Mechanical Turk is that it could become a platform for outsourcing small tasks, perhaps especially to persons in 3rd world nations where the tasks, even in English, are doable and the money goes a lot further than it does here. I’ll be watching this one with curiosity.

5 replies on “Outsourcing the small stuff”

Yeah, I saw them add this service a little while back…I also thought the structure of the system was really interesting as well in which you’re discouraged from jumping in full force.


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