Amazon is apparently behind the site mturk.com which calls itself "Amazon Mechanical Turk: Artificial Artificial Intelligence".
According to part of their FAQ:
Amazon Mechanical Turk provides a web services API for computers to integrate "artificial, artificial intelligence" directly into their processing by making requests of humans.For those that doubt that Amazon would do something this... umm... innovative, a quick view of the page source shows that many of the images and links are served from Amazon.com. This really does appear to be Amazon.
A network of humans fuels this artificial, artificial intelligence by coming to the web site, searching for and completing tasks, and receiving payment for their work.
For software developers, the Amazon Mechanical Turk web service solves the problem of building applications that until now have not worked well because they lack human intelligence. Humans are much more effective than computers at solving some types of problems, like finding specific objects in pictures, evaluating beauty, or translating text.
For businesses and entrepreneurs who want tasks completed, the Amazon Mechanical Turk web service solves the problem of getting work done in a cost-effective manner by people who have the skill to do the work.
For people who want to earn money in their spare time, the Amazon Mechanical Turk web site solves the problem of finding work that they can do wherever and whenever they want.
I really don't know what to say. I have a hard time seeing how this idea can succeed.
Google Answers works because the fees are high, answers quite complex, and experts well vetted. The core idea behind Amazon's Mechanical Turk seems to be to take the success of Google Answers and try to scale it up by a few orders of magnitude.
But there's problems with that. If I scale up by doing cheaper answers, I won't be able to filter experts as carefully, and quality of the answers will be low. Many of the answers will be utter crap, just made up, quick bluffs in an attempt to earn money from little or no work. How will they deal with this?
It seems to me that Amazon has just changed the problem from finding the answer to the problem from the data available to digging out the correct answer from all the crappy answers provided. Filtering crap out of user generated content at large scale is a difficult problem too.
More comments and discussion at Metafilter, TechDirt, Google Blogoscoped, Rob Hof, Jason Fried, Greg Yardley, and Slashdot.
Update: Don't miss the ongoing discussion in the comments to this post.
Update: I have a short quote in a Seattle PI article by Kristen Bolt on Amazon Mechanical Turk.