Amazon needs YOU

Amazon has quietly rolled out a new service in the US called the Amazon Mechanical Turk.

As any security expert already knows (huh? - Ed), the Mechanical Turk is named after the `automated' chess player developed in 1769 by Wolfgang von Kempelen.

The automatic player was actually a large box with a real player hidden inside, but you get the drift.

The idea behind the Amazon service is that developers can post small manual tasks that are part of larger software processes. Individuals who complete the tasks are paid a small fee.

The service is designed to complete tasks that a program couldn't normally carry out, such as selecting the best-looking store from a given sample, or the best-looking product wrapper for, say, a burger.

According to Amazon, it plans to take 10 per cent commission from the fees paid by the paying customer, such as a developer, to the person doing the online work.

Early signs are the workers are being paid anything between 3 and 15 cents per project on the service, with each project - if that's the right word - taking five to 10 seconds of the worker's time.

I reckon the Amazon Turk service could be used for code cracking, using pattern recognition techniques, provided the process of distributing the data required could be automated - i.e. through the Turk service.

The principles are similar to distributed computing projects such as SETI@Home, which involved 10s of thousands of home PCs using their idle time to sift through vast volumes of radio signals for signs of intelligence.

The difference with the Amazon Turk is that human brains could be used rather than computers, allowing more fuzzy logic processes to be applied.

I wonder if Amazon realise what is possible with the new service?