Welcome to My Boss is a Robot.
We created this blog to chronicle our attempt to answer a question: can unskilled, crowdsourced labor be used to create a product that require skills, experience and insight?
We’re both journalists, so we’ve chosen a product we’re familiar with: the news story. We want to create a high-quality piece that could run in a reputable news magazine or newspaper. And we’re going to assign this job to the workers on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, an outsourcing website. We want the workers on MTurk to do the reporting, writing, editing and fact-checking — all the parts of the editorial process.
We’ll elaborate on the process and why we think it’s interesting in future posts, but here are two of our motivations:
It’s happening already (almost). Publishers have already automated some parts of the editorial process and out-sourced others. It’s probably only a matter of time before a publisher quietly conducts this experiment, if they haven’t already. We think it’s better to explore the pros and cons of this approach in public.
It pushes the boundaries of crowdsourcing. The jobs on Mechanical Turk tend to be quick and easy. Workers are often tasked to find email addresses or translate short sentences. Tasks that involve planning and creativity don’t seem to lend themselves to the platform. But maybe that’s because no one has figured out a way of breaking these more complex processes into a series of straightforward tasks. If so, many more processes — product design? medical diagnosis? — might be crowdsourced. This idea is explored in a recent news story that one of us wrote for New Scientist magazine (registration required, but the piece is free to access).
Before we begin, two obvious questions:
Are we confident that our experiment will work? Absolutely not. In fact, we’d be surprised if it did. But we think it will be interesting to try. Equally importantly, we hope that chronicling our progress here will trigger debate about the future of journalism and of crowdsourcing. We’d love to hear your thoughts on our plans and, later, our progress.
Where does the robot boss come in to it? The crowdsourced workers will be coordinated by an algorithm. If the process works, we will hand the algorithm a research paper and, perhaps a couple of days later, it will spit out a polished news article. Bear with us on this one — we’ll clarify the details soon.
Finally, the credits. This blog is the work of MacGregor Campbell and Jim Giles. We’re San Francisco-based science and technology journalists. But most of the hard work of designing and running the experiment is being done by our collaborators: Niki Kittur and colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University. See the about us page for more.