Outsource Your Plagiarism with Amazon’s Mechanical Turk

I saw “Amazing but True Cat Stories” on BoingBoing the other day and it inspired me to come up with some Amazon Mechanical Turk Human Intelligence Tasks. I’m looking into actually implementing some right now and will probably start running them soon, so I’ll write about them here when I have them up.

The Mechanical Turk is a web service run by Amazon that allows you to pay hundreds, if not thousands of people to perform menial tasks that computers are not capable of. It takes it name from the true Mechanical Turk, a hoax from the 18th century that could play (and beat) people at chess, when in fact the pieces were being ingeniously controlled by a midget. But I digress.

I’ve been investigating the HITs that are already on the site. I had looked through a lot a number of months ago, but they have only gotten better.

This one struck me* as interesting:

Rewrite 5 Sentences

Please re-write the below sentences 3 times each.

You should always start and end every meal with a flourish, and a delectable dessert is sure to make a splash. Now is the time to enjoy those tempting food baskets you have on hand, to sweeten up your dessert offerings. Try using the goodies from a gourmet gift basket.

A fruit tart with a tender, buttery crust is a perfect complement to imported chocolates from a chocolate gift basket. Whichever gift baskets you decide to use, your picnic will sure to be delicious.

A good rule of thumb is to start your meal with a bang and give it an impressive finish. A sumptuous gift basket dessert is just the finishing touch that your picnic needs. Gourmet gift baskets are filled with decadent goodies that you can pull out and use anytime.

Tasty treats like imported chocolate gift baskets and fruit baskets, with a flaky, buttery crust will satisfy the love of your life when you bring them for the dessert of your next picnic. Whatever the menu you ultimately decide on, your picnic will be the most delicious part of your day!

Otherwise, you can have fresh fruits, salted nuts and cheese after the meal. Nachos and crackers dipped in sweet sauce, likewise, complements your wine. Wine baskets or Fruit baskets tend to be the most impressionable!

Please upload .txt file when submitting.

The writer, by accepting this HIT agrees to extend an exclusive unlimited term license to the purchaser to use the original content developed. Once the article is accepted by the purchaser and paid for, the content written for this HIT may not be sold, traded or given away to any other individual or company, nor used for any other article writing assignment elsewhere. Moreover, the writer agrees that the purchaser has full rights to amend and modify the content at will and to use it wherever the purchaser deems fit.

At $3.50 this was the most expensive HIT on the site as of this writing. Why would anyone need such mundane cooking copy rewritten?

I’m certain its because someone is rewriting a cook book to resell commercially. But why is it just the text about a recipe and not the recipe itself? Recipes can not be copyrighted, so the actual ingredients and list of steps to make a dish can be freely copied.

Thessaly and I have discovered many, if not all of our favorite chef‘s recipes are available on line gratis from various spammy recipe sites. This is convenient when we’re cooking at friends or away from home and don’t have access to her cookbooks but know the recipe we want to cook.

The part of a recipe that isn’t copyable, however, is the text surrounding it or introducing it, or anything minimally creative about the recipe. This means that if Alice muses about how she came to discover the fact that grapefruit and avocado (can you tell I love this salad?) make a great combination when paired with a white wine vinaigrette and curly endive, you can’t copy that part.

It’s pretty clear that this HIT is designed to route around this “feature” of copyright law by hiring a massive horde of re-writers to do the dirty and boring work of plagiarism. I tried Googling some of the original phrases supplied by the HIT’s creator but nothing came up. Let me know if you recognize any — I’d be curious to discover the source material.

So just remember, the next time you want to blatantly plagiarize a book (or a college essay if you’re so inclined) you can hire hundreds of anonymous web users to do it for you.

*UPDATE: Monday AM my example HIT no long seems active. I’m going to search a bit more for similar ones and try to get a screen shot but I’m sure more will crop up soon.

1 comment
  1. […] I’m currently paying participants $.15 per idea, though I have no idea if this is a reasonable amount of money to compensate someone for coming up with the brilliant kind of ideas already on the site: […]

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