Questions and thoughts about Amazon Turk


Amazon Turk is the new buzz on memeorandum (once you get the meme and orandum seperation, it is quite easy to spell). It is “we are expanding our maketplace from just products to jobs, but only jobs in a way our automated systems can handle perfectly.”.

On job I would like to give out directly would be “translate ‘Türk Dir einen‘ into English so I don’t need to and I would pay hmm 50 cents for it.” I can hear the outcry of everyone in the translation business. And I agree with you, this is not a rate you should work for. But fact is:

I as an bilingual author would much more prefer to write in my language and have somebody translate it well – I bet you sometimes wish too. But I would not pay very much for it. So what is the result? You get stuck with my own translations (which of course will hopefully get better over time), and you have to endure me being cranky about having to translate such (my choice, I know) or more you being not able to read German. Well most of you. Did I forget something? Oh yes. Those 50 cents not spent.

Set aside for a moment the moral implications you get rising in front of your eyes and stop thinking “oh you cold capitalist” for a moment. Think of a big buzzing marketplace with thousands of offers and thousands of workers: Somewhere in the world the current monthly earning is some dollars. I am offering a job which could be done (if you know the language) in oh let’s say an hour. It is not that long of an article and not that complicated.

Well, let’s be honest: This is a marketplace. For my 50 cents there will be other offers online saying “translate these two sentences for 50 cents.” or “get 5 dollar for those 200 words”. I as a worker can choose from much more lucrative work. My offer will not be taken by the most skillful ones. It will be taken by somebody else, if at all.

How about “identify this book in a database and deliver me the isbn back”? I could make a shot of all those books I can’t identify by a normal scanner where I would have to look for the isbn – that could be done outside. I would not pay much money for it, but I would pay some.

“Yeah, and how are they going to get to a computer? They will have to pay for it! It is like computer prostitution!” you might say. Right also. But if I have the choice between prostituting myself to men or to a computer for doing work like translating or identifying pictures of stores, you should see a difference …. Also, there are many people who do have a computer at home, but can’t use it for work, because work most of the times happens outside the house. Think Mom’s at home.

Splitting your work into tasks to have them worked on decentralized feels like going into the second industrial revolution. Which part of the workflow have we always tried to outsource? Can it be done by human intelligence? Can we seperate this part of the work to work line HIT? As far as I know, chinese workers are payed about $5 a month, and they can do comparisons of numbers, texts of digitalisation etc. Yes, that fells like the kind of work the western world workers did in the beginning of the 20th century.

But they did not work on computers but in coal mines and production lines. And look where we are today. I have no doubt, that this can happen also there. At the moment Amazon is hitting for the mass market, you can judge that by looking at their minimun transaction fee of $0.005. And after some work, it may as well be possible they extend their services to ‘higher’ qualified work than “hit? yes / no”.

And think about it: Customers who bought at this freelancer also bought at this freelancer. Customer review. Recommendation “you have been using translation services. Perhaps you are also interested into this cultural expert to test your new website?”. Which is one of the downsides: In order to judge “which photo is best” (their example), one has to overcome cultural differences – I am not sure I would like an American to choose my christmas decoration just as an example.

Which leaves a big question to me: Will they patent this way, or can they? “Using a computer system to do transaction for businesses identifing people on photos / compare scans / etc”? Even if they can’t I am sure this will bring ecommerce into a whole new level – before it was mostly ‘only’ buying and selling of products. Now we might even more expand into the information business. And before you correct me: Yes, there have been services before, just take Google Answers. But non of them put their ‘operating system’ behind it as Amazon now did.

There are downsides and questions, particular ethical ones. But there also are chances. We have to take those and make the rest good too. This is how you evolve as a society: not by shutting down everything, because it _now_ does not fit into your moral / ethical world understanding but by working on those issues too.

My 50 cents are still not spent and I did the article myself, and even with a different turn than my German one. I could spend those on a Hippo Roller.

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