Amazon — it’s the place where we spend way too much money. But now it’s also becoming a place to find your new workforce: introducing Amazon Mechanical Turk.
This new pilot program is at its core a marketplace for workers to conduct tasks that require human intelligence; tasks for which artificial intelligence is just not quite up to speed yet. It generally involves tasks such as identifying objects in photos or videos, transcribing audio recordings, or researching data points organically.
The premise of Amazon Mechanical Turk is to provide employers with task-specific contract employees. “Traditionally, tasks like this have been accomplished by hiring a large temporary workforce (which is time-consuming, expensive, and difficult to scale),” states Amazon on its Mechanical Turk page.
The meat and potatoes of this program are requesters – online employers – who post a Human Intelligence Task (HIT). Anyone can take the HIT and complete it for some monetary compensation. “A Human Intelligence Task, or HIT, is a question that needs an answer,” Amazon’s site explains. “A HIT represents a single, self-contained task that a worker can work on, submit an answer, and collect a reward for completing.”
Here’s a real-world example: You have a long grocery receipt, and you want all your purchases to be categorized: vegetables, fruits, snacks, drinks, etc. You would post the HIT and offer a 20-minute window to complete the task, at a price of $.10. Someone would then pick up the HIT and complete the categorization. After you review the work and verify that it is valid, you would then pay the worker 10 cents. The payment is small, but the task was simple and short, so the reward matches the effort required.
Amazon’s foray into the work marketplace puts the Future of Work for all employees in the world in the spotlight. We are rapidly moving toward an economy where everyone is replaceable, and where people will be hired to perform a task and be released once it is completed. Contingent workers are not just on the horizon; they’ve arrived. Everyone is going to be an independent contractor, but instead of being hired for 6 months to fix organizational complexity, they will be hired for fixing the specific issue and be given only 2 weeks. If they fail to fix it, they may not get paid.
This type of workplace encourages accountability and performance. People who cannot perform to the standards set by the employer won’t be paid; there is no salary. There is no long-term tenure, and no hiding behind the lines of your team and organizational red tape — if you fail, you’re out.
Such a future, though cutthroat, could help workers who do high-quality work gain recognition, while also allowing employers be more selective in choosing workers. In Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, multiple people can submit results to HITs, but the employer needs to pick only one. This allows employers to pick the best of the best, allowing multiple potential solutions for minimal economic cost.
Mechanical Turk may be used now to catalog your grocery receipts, but its potential worldwide success will be a major inflection point for the rise of task-based contract employees.
Want more insight on where today’s workplace is headed? See The Future of Work.