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May 24, 2006

The Mechanical Turk

Posted by Monica Soto at 3:05 PM

Amazon.com has made significant investments in technology and free-shipping promotions. At the company's annual meeting Wednesday, Jeff Bezos chose to display one of the company's more obscure examples:

The Mechanical Turk.

The beta site is so named after the Hungarian nobleman Wolfgang von Kempelen. In 1769, this enterprising fellow built a mechanical chess-playing machine that apparently beat the powdered wigs off even the most astute chess players, including Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin. Turns out, hiding beneath the machine's intricate innards was a very small (and very brilliant) chess player.

Now, the company is asking those to try their luck on "artificial artificial intelligence" -- its own version of the Mechanical Turk. The site pays small sums for humans to perform simple tasks that computers still find hard to do.

For $0.01, for instance, you can rank your three "best mashed potatoes in Seattle."

Someone, please pass the salt?

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