A few weeks ago, I netstumbled again upon Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, a for-hire crowdsourcing system that I remember causing a brief buzz when it came out in 2005 or 2006. I was deep in dissertation tunnel vision at the time, not wanting to let myself be distracted, but I remember thinking it held interesting possibilities as a highly decentralized market for immaterial labor, and wondered how it might connect to what I’d been saying about the economics of writing.
So I’ve finally caught a short breather from the end-of-the-semester crunch — I’m presently sitting in the hall while my plebes are about 25 minutes into taking their term-end examinations and typing busily away — and did some poking around. Interesting stuff. The job requester command-line interface stuff is a little daunting, but on the worker side, there are — as of this morning — 111 jobs available with the keyword “write” in the listing. Which made me wonder once more: how much should you pay for a C+ paper?
Or, OK, to be a little less opaque about it: the Amazon Mechanical Turk offers one system of thinking about the value of what they call Human Intelligence Tasks. In looking over those Human Intelligence Tasks, I think they’re certainly a form of Hardt and Negri’s immaterial labor, but of a somewhat different order than, say, writing an essay. Yet some of them — e.g., writing reviews — come close to the types of low-stakes tasks we sometimes assign in FYC. And “stakes” is yet another term related to value.
Curious. Further investigation needed.