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I found work on an Amazon website and earned 97 cents an hour


A report from the depths of the strange, wild and low-wage world of Mechanical Turk, Amazon's repetitive jobs service Credit: Shutterstock

The computer showed me a picture of what appeared to be a school board meeting.

My job is to rate the image on a scale of one to five according to 23 different qualities: "patriotic," "elitist," "comforting," and so on.

I did the same with the photograph of a woman wearing headphones – I put four in the category of "competent" and one in "threatening" – and also with an image of five smiling women flanking a smiling man who wears a blue jacket

I sent my answers. I looked at my watch. It had been three minutes.

He had just earned another five cents in a digital labor market called Mechanical Turk, run by
        
Amazon
        
 . Or at least that had creed. Weeks later, I'm not sure yet.

There are many ways to earn some money in this world. And Amazon Mechanical Turk – which has prospered, at different levels, since 2005 in an unknown corner of the empire of this international colossus – offers an uncertain, mysterious and often unsettling way to earn very little money.

In Mechanical Turk – which is named after a "machine" of the eighteenth century to play chess in which a human expert was hiding-
hundreds of thousands of people earn pennies or dollars by performing tasks that computers cannot easily do.

It works like this: employers, known as applicants, publish many Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs) on the Mechanical Turk website. A task could be to transcribe a receipt, participate in a study or label photographs to train a program of
        
artificial intelligence
        
 (sometimes disturbing images are shown, such as decapitation).

Freelancers, informally known as turkers, rush to accept the tasks and perform them, and provide what Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, once defined as
"artificial artificial intelligence".

With most of these activities you pay ten cents or less, and there are a number of daily tasks with which you only earn a penny.

And the strange thing is that workers – most Americans – do them for many different reasons.

People become turkers with the idea of ??saving to buy a motorcycle. They also do it to buy insulin, to pay off their debts or to make money while killing time in a boring job.

Some do it because there are few jobs with decent salaries that can be done at will. People who are locked in their home due to a disability or a social anxiety problem or who live where there are few jobs do so because, despite the low salaries, it seems to be the best option.

Many do it full time. According to one
The Pew Research Center's 2016 survey of nearly 3,000 American turkers, a quarter said they get most or all of their income through the platform and more than half of them said they earned less than five dollars an hour.

Strive to earn pennies

Although, in theory, it seems that little is earned with this work, in practice often less is earned because MTurk, as it is known, is a poorly made and deficient platform in which everyone can participate.

The turkers have a hard time fighting with the solicitors either because of an unfair rejection of ten cents or a missing payment of 60 cents. They waste minutes answering defective forms that cannot be sent. They leave "ten minutes" questionnaires after half an hour.

They exchange horror stories and warnings in the message forums of turkers ("they rejected me a task of 0.50 dollars",
say a recent message, "the reason is that no funds were allocated"). They leave biting reviews on
Turkopticon, the site run by turkers ("unfair and uncontrolled use of the rejection button").