lou suSi @ MassArt

2011 MFA Design graduate from DMI

February 3, 2013
by lou suSi
0 comments

mechanical turking in service to the internet

i just bumped across this interesting Big Think post under the theme Collective Intelligence that interestingly discusses a new crowdsourcing paradigm called mechanical turking:

Is Your Mind for Sale? Inside the Allure of Digital Sweatshops

so, although the post / article is not directly about robotics, per se, it does seem to point out a certain interesting human exploitation paradigm rising within the realm of artificial artificial intelligence — as a means to make all the magic behind the scenes of Amazon’s search, recommendation engines and other similar web experiences more human-centered and natural for its customers, corporations are offering up a rather lame gamified pseudo-occupation up to people that

aims to use human intelligence to do the work that one day a computer might do

Human Intelligence Tasks or HITs are assigned to web surfers aka micro-laborers — their behavior is recorded for future use by Amazon or some other similar behemoth corporation — micro-laborers might perform these assigned tasks for free or for points or sometimes they are actually compensated pennies per task

Motivated by simple rewards, collective intelligence can be harnessed to create huge stores of accurate, useful data (as opposed to computer-generated nonsense)

the entire human-behavior-technology socioeconomic dynamics behind this new digital workforce paradigm is described in further detail in the Big Think post, but what i would like to focus on here are the very flip-metaphor implications of this new micro-laborer workforce — this flip in the purpose of our technological advancement as we originally dreamt it up and the actual realities behind where we’re really heading worries me and its been on my mind for decades now as i try to heighten my own personal awareness of how i interact with the digital and mechanical aspects ubiquitously embedded in our world — these matters, in fact, may be the most important reason why i focus on user-centered design, a field i would rather refer to as human experience designmy love / hate relationship with the technologies i use on a daily basis can sometimes lead to controversial discourse with those that are so financially tied to the blind progress of these technologies as to never dare express a negative bone of contention toward the pure and happy exponential growth of our techno-advancements to an ultimately better integrated, man-machine, post-humanic after-culture — many don’t wanna hear that at all, if you know what i mean — after all, i’m supposed to be a computer person, someone that knows and understands technology at the bleeding edge at all times — not only am i supposed to know it, i’m supposed to love it

but

now that society has advanced to the point of paying micro-laborers pennies per Human Intelligence Taskshouldn’t we be concerned?

the machines, the systems, the robots, the technologies we invent according to the retrodelicious vision of our State of the Art in the future { as established at events like the World’s Fairs and so on } always emphasized the benefits to our human quality of life improving due to technological advancement — machines were created to reduce the amount of toil put upon people thence freeing up our valuable human time to live more fulfilling and leisurely lives, maybe taking on more than mere tasks as our avocational activities — NOT the other way ’round, right? and now we’re finding out about this micro-labor economy whereby people are kept in their isolated home office caves clicking and tapping to help huge corporations optimize machine intelligence to just sell more shit through behavioral psychosemantic algorithmic manipulation? aren’t their any bigger problems to solve in the world? wouldn’t some other application of our technologies at least begin to fulfill the promises made back in the 1940s, 50s and 60s? why do we always think so small? who will create the case study showing the more profound profitability behind really helping people in the world, not just selling, selling, selling — this is getting a little off-topic { not unusual for me, for my personal subconscious style of following little threads of thought this way and that }

we constantly dehumanize the human aspects of our life to compensate for the inhuman accoutrements we live with in our self-made technohumanic ecosystem

we expect more from people when it comes to work performance or task-level activity and far less from our technologies

Sherry Turkle points out in Alone Together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other the same notion but from the completely opposite, kitty-corner perspective — she starts to ask questions about how we relate to each other as mediated and propelled through our highly evolved new systems of sociable technologies — Turkle looks at the oft ignored dark side behind all our advancements — Ray Kurzweil often refers to Moore’s Law in his futuristic projections regarding technology, reinforcing the notion that our technologies do not progress in a predictable, linear fashion, but instead our technologies improve exponentially when it comes to speed, memory storage, etcetera { see the attached and stolen line graph depicting Moore’s Law }

What neither Kurzweil nor Turkle seem to point out { yet }, however, is that for every step of exponential progress in technology, there must be some similar charting mechanism for human experience as it dynamically relates to our relationship with the invisible other { our technologies } now sitting at the table with us — i hope its not related in some natural physics of the universe kind of way to Newton’s Universal Laws of Motion, equal but opposite would certainly NOT be good news for humankind — but we should examine some at least minimilistic notion of the question but how do these exponential advancements effect:

  • our overall human quality of life
  • general real economic dynamics around the world
  • the way we communicate with real people in the world
  • and the quality of that communication, not just the speediness or anywhere / anytime aspects of communication now afforded us via technology
  • our overall improvement as a global civilization

now, these are pretty heavy topics for someone who’s previous thesis research and reporting centered on humor, laughter and everything in between { but mostly that in between area } — but i think this is all related in some cosmological way

between these recent delvings into puppets, robots and intelligence and my design thesis confounded: future fetish design performance for human advocacy, i did have the glorious and exciting opportunity to present at Club OBERON for Pecha Kucha Night Boston — i called my 20×20 talk The 2012 Human eXperience Report, and it was a mostly humorous report on some of the modern, found systems i find annoying, strange or just plain ‘off’ — for instance, automated bathroom experiences create more of a confusing haunted house of animated insanity than a safer, cleaner and more efficient visit to the corporate Men’s Room — i am guessing this is not what the engineering efforts behind these micro-robotic interactions intended during the development processes — but nobody seems to really be optimizing these uncanny experiences, either, right? my handicap stall toilet almost always superflushes midmovement for me, blasting not only a cool breeze up from an articcool water swirl but also some of the cool water { and other } contents of said toilet bowl making for a far less sanitary experience than one would ever want — the autosoaping dispenser presents the strangest game of delayed ejaculation i’ve ever encountered, the anticipation and my need to properly position my hand in the most mechanical way to compensate for the autoridiculously unintelligence built into such a simple gesture are minimal, but significantly bizarre — i can never guess the exact height to hold my hand under the shiny chrome faucet to help trigger and maintain a stream of water to wash my semi-soaped hands with — not to mention, now it seems, the bathroom stalls are the only safe and private space for some people to send emails, SMS texts and other micro-messages from — there’s even the occasional business call conducted from the urinal

civilization { yes, i just used the ‘C’ word } progresses technologically but seems to psychologically and sociopoetically regress in rather comical yet totally saddening ways

Skip to toolbar