Sunday, March 25, 2007

Artificial Artificial Intelligence: supplementing machine intelligence with human intelligence

There is an article in The New York Times by Jason Pontin entitled "Artificial Intelligence, With Help From the Humans" about efforts to use web-based human workers to supplement artificial intelligence (AI) efforts. Noting that "Things that humans do with little conscious thought, such as recognizing patterns or meanings in images, language or concepts, only baffle the machines", the article goes on to tell us that:

The problem has prompted a spooky, but elegant, business idea: why not use the Web to create marketplaces of willing human beings who will perform the tasks that computers cannot? Jeff Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon.com, has created Amazon Mechanical Turk, an online service involving human workers, and he has also personally invested in a human-assisted search company called ChaCha. Mr. Bezos describes the phenomenon very prettily, calling it "artificial artificial intelligence."

The articles examines some of the practical and human issues with such "work", but this is still a wide open area with at least some potential. The technique is not without its problems and limitations:

THERE have been two common objections to artificial artificial intelligence. The first, confirmed by my own experiences searching on ChaCha, is that the networks are no more intelligent than their smartest members. Katharine Mieszkowski, writing last year on Salon.com, raised the second, more serious criticism. She saw Mechanical Turk as a kind of virtual sweatshop. "There is something a little disturbing about a billionaire like Bezos dreaming up new ways to get ordinary folk to do work for him for pennies," she wrote.

My personal view is that I am not a supporter of the "pennies" economic model. At a minimum, the prevailing federal minimum wage should be used. Encouraging servitude should not be considered socially or economically acceptable. AAI should not be built upon a financial foundation that relegates real people to being simply "slaves to the machines."

-- Jack Krupansky

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