The Programmable Employer: Application Design In the Age of Crowdsourcing

Garrett Wilkin, November 23rd, 2011

Amazon Mechanical TurkAs I continue to report on new APIs popping up all over the Internet, one theme has caught my attention:  systems powered by simple information tasks completed by humans.  It’s developing trend in which humans take requests from software systems, complete them, and feed the results back into the system.  This is a fundamental shift in computing.  Now, Human input is no longer solely for the purpose of controlling or directing the application.  It has become just another functional component of the system.  The human is taking the place of a software component and can in some instances be described in terms of expected inputs and outputs.

This phenomenon is called crowdsourcing.  The basic idea is that you throw an idea or request for something out to the crowd.  The crowd participates in some way that gives you an answer to your question or response to your idea.  A subtype of crowdsourcing is microtasking, in which small discrete tasks are made available to a pool of workers.  Crowdsourcing platforms have been created with varying levels of organization and coordination.  I’m going to list a few of the more organized examples of the crowdsourcing trend here.

Several posts ago I covered a transcription service, QuickTate, which provides typists on the other end of API calls.  Then I saw MobileWorks which sends discrete tasks to information workers across the globe.  Of course there’s Amazon’s Mechanical Turk which was launched years ago and may have been the first popular system of this kind.  There’s two more that I’ve just glanced over today: CrowdFlower and CloudFactory, both which offer a human workforce that can be coordinated through the design of a digital assembly line.  CloudFactory’s distinguishing attribute is that it also provides “robots” (which are specialized applications) can work in the assembly line right along side the humans.

With these sophisticated microtasking platforms, application developers are now facing the question: should I use an API powered by artificial or human intelligence?  The presence of crowdsourcing APIs begs the question: would it be better to rely on humans in an automated way? As artificial intelligence improves I’m sure that we will see the complete automation of more and more information tasks but humans still have an edge in a few areas such as speech transcription, image and handwriting recognition.

Application developers must consider, would the results from human intelligence be of higher quality or more reliable than artificial intelligence?  Now that human intelligence can be directly integrated into computer systems, application designers have this new and interesting choice.

Tags: Issues
Both comments and pings are currently closed.

5 Responses to “The Programmable Employer: Application Design In the Age of Crowdsourcing”

November 23rd, 2011
at 2:46 am
Comment by: Shalmaneser

You should also check out Mobileworks http://www.mobileworks.com/

November 23rd, 2011
at 4:58 pm
Comment by: Muhammad

You should have a look at Houdini (http://houdiniapi.com), which provides a simplified API interface to cloud labor platformsvlike Mechanical Turk

November 24th, 2011
at 6:13 am
Comment by: sandesh

With these sophisticated microtasking platforms, application developers are now facing the question: should I use an API powered by artificial or human intelligence? The presence of crowdsourcing APIs begs the question: would it be better to rely on humans in an automated way? As artificial intelligence improves I’m sure that we will see the complete automation of more and more information tasks but humans still have an edge in a few areas such as speech transcription, image and handwriting recognition.

Application developers must consider, would the results from human intelligence be of higher quality or more reliable than artificial intelligence? Now that human intelligence can be directly integrated into computer systems, application designers have this new and interesting choice.

March 24th, 2012
at 8:43 am
Comment by: kamrulqwe

Thank you for mentioning Position2 Brand Monitor – there are a ton of new features and capabilities we’ve added to our monitoring platform, would love to give you an updated walkthrough on our new capabilities and new customers!

Intelligence platform
Topic streams
Group messaging
Activity feeds

October 3rd, 2012
at 8:01 am
Comment by: Human Intelligence Finds A Niche in Robo-Economy

[...] and humans working at the beck and call of robots, you might like my round up from a year ago: The Programmable Employer.  We’ve got a few dozen crowdsourcing APIs in the index if you’d like to browse a few [...]

Follow the PW team on Twitter

ProgrammableWeb
APIs, mashups and code. Because the world's your programmable oyster.

John Musser
Founder, ProgrammableWeb

Adam DuVander
Executive Editor, ProgrammableWeb. Author, Map Scripting 101. Lover, APIs.