Steve Fossett and the Amazon Mechanical Turk

Anonymous Guest's picture
Submitted by Anonymous Guest on Sun, 2007-09-09 16:37

Aviator, sailor, and adventurer, Steve Fossett, went missing earlier this week. If he is your hero, you can help look for him via this Amazon's Mechanical Turk Page.

You need an Amazon.com account to participate in the search. A series of high-resolution satellite images of the area where Fossett disappeared will be shown; you can flag any images that you think might contain Fossett's plane; search and rescue experts will further review the flagged images and act on them.

Amazon.com's Mechanical Turk or artificial AI (artificial intelligence) is a set of web services that allows one to include human intelligence into an application. This is useful for tasks that a human is good at but computers are currently unable to do, for e.g. recognizing objects in images (as in the case of satellite images above). In other words, humans help the computer with it's tasks. The name Mechanical Turk is derived from the 18th century hoax by Wolfgang von Kempelen - he promoted a chess playing machine as an automaton, but it turned out there was a human inside the machine making the chess moves.

I donated a couple of my hours to search for Jim Gray, a computer scientist who was lost at sea earlier this year. It did not amount to much, mostly I think because it was at sea, and a lot of the area was under cloud cover. I wonder if the clearer Nevada skies will help this search. However, like blogs and forums, I think this is another cool demonstration of what is possible with internet technology - people from across the globe can collaborate on something of value to them.


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I hadn't heard of wikisari

Aaron's picture

I hadn't heard of wikisari before, I'll definitely have to look into it! A related business that I'd wanted to do (that my would-be partners were not as fond of) was to have the humans classing images as pornographic for the filter also rate them for who/what they contained - and build up a database to allow paid porn searches for those with specific kinks tastes. Sounds like that may be done already.

I already have a Mech Turk

Lance's picture

I already have a Mech Turk account, so I'll dedicate a couple of hours this afternoon.

Your porn filter idea sounds

Suma's picture

Your porn filter idea sounds good. I wonder if the time is right to rework it using Amazon's MT APIs. You could have different classes of filters with a nice arrangement for parents and religious organizations to put their money exactly where their mouth is. The bigger trick to these filters is to keep kids from bypassing them. In a way, your idea complements Jimbo Wales' wikiasari, the (porn!) search engine that will include human judgement to make searches more relevant.

I love the name and the

Aaron's picture

I love the name and the concept of organizing humans-behind-computers in this fashion. In '01 a couple coworkers and I looked into the concept of making intelligent porn-filters which went beyond keyword or site blacklists or whitelists and passed previously unknown sites or images to overseas humans as the final arbiters. It didn't look to have a viable business model, but I'm happy to see the AI-then-human method available more generally to other problems.

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