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Tuesday, January 29th 2013

12:49 PM


Software that delegates tricky problems to human workers is changing the nature of crowdsourcing.

AutoMan is the first fully automatic system that can delegate tasks to human workers via crowdsourcing platforms such as Amazon Mechanical Turk. Artifical intelligence is improving all the time, but computers still struggle to complete tasks that are easy for us. To get round this, people can post such tasks on platforms like Mechanical Turk for others to complete. We think of it as a new kind of computing. It changes the kind of things you can do.

AutoMan can send out jobs, manage workers, accept or reject work and make payments. You're replacing people's managers with a computer. The quality quarantee is the most important contribution of the work. Unlike existing crowdsourcing platforms, AutoMan doesn't attempt to predict the reliability of its workers based on their previous performance. Instead, if it is not sure it has the correct answer, it keeps on posting the same job, upping the fee each time, until it is confident that the task can be done.

One way to think about it is that it saves the interesting parts, the creative parts, or the fun parts for people. You have the computer doing the grunt work.

AutoMan could be used by developers of apps like VizWiz, in which blind people take a photo of their surroundings and receive a description of the scene. The app sends the photos to the crowdworkers, choosing the correct descriptions and sending them back to the app's user.

Human labour doesn't come free. AutoMan will be given a budget by the app developer and be programmed to keep costs down. Quicker or higher quality responses will cost more but AutoMan will manage all of this automatically. Anyone using such hybrid software wouldn't know whether they were interacting with a machine or crowdworkers or both.

So how do Mechanical Turk workers feel about being directly employed by a computer? Feedback received has been positive so far. When a manager rejects your work, it can feel personal or unfair. But that's not the case with AutoMan. Any developer could pick up on this and improve it. Hybrid software such as Soylent, a word processor uses crowdworkers to edit text. Royal Bank of Scotland is introducing www.bizcrowd.com for it's businesses.

It is hoped crowdsourcing software, with delegating tasks and jobs to crowdworker's everywhere, will become mainstream around the world. AutoMan might even help grow a new class of jobs that could become a new sector of the world economy.

Mark Bower, Director, NextWave.IT Limited




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