Amazon has launched a new service that seeks to create a marketplace for human intelligence on the Net. The idea is to utilize humans like one might utilize intelligent agents, to help complete tasks that humans do better than computers — for example like image adjustments, formatting, tagging and marking up content, adding metatdata to documents, filing and filtering, etc. The idea is that people can sign up to do these tasks and make money. People who need tasks can farm them out to the marketplace. It’s like a big army of "human agents" who can use "human intelligence" to do stuff for you.
The name of the service is "Amazon Mechanical Turk" — quite bizarre. But OK. It’s a cool idea. I think the combination of human and machine intelligence is ultimately going to be smarter than either form of intelligence on its own. This system is at least a start — it harnesses groups of human intelligence to help do things.
But think about where this could go: For example, the system could actually be built right into applications — for example, imagine if in Photoshop there was a new menu command for "fix this image" that charged you a dollar and farmed the image out to 2 or 3 humans who each attempted to improve the image. It would function just like a filter, but instead of software doing the work it would be humans. For you, the end-user, it would be functionally equivalent. You would get 3 versions of your adjusted image back in a few minutes and could choose the best one or use them all.
The idea of building in menu options into software and services that actually trigger behaviors among networks of humans is very interesting.
But to do this well you really need and API that all applications can use to harness "human intelligence" and "human functions" in their apps. One the best proposals for how to do this more is here. And an update about that is here.