Friday, November 04, 2005

Return the past - Amazon engages human computers

This small announcement is a historic event.

Prior to the 1940s a 'computer' was a human being who did computational tasks by hand. A large task might be distributed to hundreds of clearks, often women. These human computers did calculations and broke encryptions.

Then came the electronic computer. But there are some tasks our computers don't do well (yet). Image processing, for example. Speech recognition. Natural language processing. Managing calendars. responding to messages. Lots of stuff. Now Amazon has launched a program to restore the human computer: Amazon Mechanical Turk. The payments may not be large, but there are millions of people around the world that could do those tasks. If Amazon hooks up human computational needs to human 'computers' in Africa (via cell phone browsers) they will have initiated a world-changing event.

This little announcement may be the biggest news of the year. I've been waiting for this to happen for a few years, but I haven't commented on it since I've some business ideas in this domain.

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