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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Paying the Turk for a Post

In the news this weekend has been the enlistment of fake reviews for the electronics company Belkin. Similar to pay-per-post, but here the going in assumption was that the good reviews were completely made up. Doing this broadly is also called astroturfing, building buzz unsupported by reality.

What was interesting here is that this was done through the Amazon's Mechanical Turk System, a crowdsourcing intelligent human task marketing system that I looked at closely last year. They were offering 65 US cents per post for each review. Machines are cheaper than humans, but only if they can perform a task. General artificial intelligence is not here yet, despite some claims, not even close. So there are many tasks a human can do that a machine cannot. Like interpreting and tagging a complex image. Certainly writing and posting a credible product review of any kind is an 'intelligent task'.

Not much different from the PayPerPost company, which brokers connections between writers and entities that need publicity. Early on Google was said to be removing the page rank of PPP originating posts. Not sure of the status of that 'policing' today, though it raises another meta level of concern: How objective is Google?

A general human dilemma, back to issues of authority and credibility of the agent involved. Belkin pulled its Mechanical Turk offer after much criticism. This kind of negative crowdsourcing is not covered in recent books on the subject.

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