Thursday, October 04, 2007

Half Nerdy Thursday: Installment III

Today's post is on human based computation.

The use of human input as an aid in performing computational tasks may seem a bit bass ackwards at first, but it's an idea that's gathering steam in disparate places. Here are some examples:

  • A little over a year ago, a search engine startup known as ChaCha went online with an alpha version. The selling point of this search engine is the ability to summon a human guide via an instant messenger style user interface. The paid human guides work from home. They've been through some rough bumps, from what I hear, but they've been working hard to beef up their technology so that it scales better.

  • takes this idea to the next conceptual plane with its Mechanical Turk web service. Mechanical Turk matches up people with tasks, and those who perform the tasks successfully are rewarded with monentary compensation. A blogger from CNet's website decided to try it out as one of the paid workers, but she learned that you probably won't be able to quit your day job by doing so. Indeed, one of the commenters on the blog astutely notes that the wages will probably have better appeal in developing economies. Which brings to the fore an irony of sorts. Why would you choose a name that might be interpreted as being ethnically derogatory? Actually, the name for this service is derived from an 18th century hoax perpetrated by a Hungarian nobleman, a chess machine that actually had a human being inside calling the moves. The machine was decked out in Turkish garb. The subtitle of "Artificial Artificial Intelligence" is the best moniker I've heard since "Disappearing, Reappearing Ink" in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

  • If you're not into the whole for-profit thing, you might be interested in this final example of human assisted computing. Those of us who have musical inclinations have probably wished for a musical search engine that could dig up titles beyond mere lyrics or titles. Some researchers are working on this effort, and they are compiling the data for the engine using a game to solicit human input about songs. If you're into all the high brow background stuff, there is a short paper on this topic. If you want to joint the fun, just point your browser to ListenGame. I'm sure that FADKOG would kick many an @$$ playing it.

Remember, if you want to play along, feel free to leave questions for next week's installment in the comment area of this post. Don't make me break out the dreaded elliptic curve cryptography expository.
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