Mechanical Turk

Updated: 09/07/2019 by Computer Hope
Amazon Mechanical Turk.

Mechanical Turk, also called MTurk, is a crowdsourcing service managed by Amazon.com. It enables businesses to hire remote workers that can perform repetitive or time consuming tasks too complex or costly to be performed by a computer. For example, using MTurk, a company could post thousands of images online, and crowdsource human workers to manually view them and write descriptions of the image contents.

Why is it called "Mechanical Turk?"

Illustration of The Turk machine. Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/bibliodyssey/2129297084 licensed CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

The name is an homage to "The Turk," a machine constructed in 1770 by Wolfgang von Kempelen. It was purported by its inventor to be an automaton that could play chess well enough to defeat human opponents. The device featured the animatronic torso of a Turkish man whose robotic arms moved above a chess board, upon which its moves were automatically displayed. Originally constructed for the amusement of the Empress of Austria, the machine was exhibited for over eighty years throughout Europe. It mystified audiences, defeating famous human opponents including Benjamin Franklin and Napoleon.

In reality, the machine was secretly operated by a human hiding inside the wooden exterior, who manually chose the chess moves made by the machine. To create the illusion that no one was inside, a false interior was designed to show machinery and hide the human operator if the devices doors were opened. The device was eventually revealed as a hoax, and was accidentally destroyed by fire in 1854.

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