Call it Crowdsourcing as a Service. MIT Technology Review reports how a new startup is proposing that tasks often beyond the reach of typical software -- such as interpreting or digitizing images -- be handled via an embedded API call in which tasks are delegated, on a piecemeal basis, to live people across a global network.
The system that MobileWorks has designed is not a typical crowdsourcing environment, in which companies or individuals send queries out to the entire world, and await feedback. Rather, this approach employs a pre-selected "crowd" of workers, and packages their input as a system-to-system response to application queries:
"MobileWorks takes on jobs sent in by software using application programming interfaces (APIs), which allow one piece of software to tap into another. MobileWorks's software translates the job sent in over its APIs into tasks distributed to the company's crowd of workers. The results are then collated and sent back to the software that made the request, which behaves as if it got the answer from another piece of software, not a crowd of humans. 'It's a black box for human intelligence,' says [MobileWorks co-founder Anand] Kulkarni. 'Software can treat us like another piece of software with the intelligence of a human.'"
The MobileWorks API makes programmatic calls to its crowd -- thus incorporating actual human intelligence into applications, the vendor says. The embeddable REST-based API that interacts with the crowd is based on either command line or python code. The API is accessible from any programming language, and the company says "it's as easy as sending your work to a given URL as a JSON-encoded object."
Typical tasks handled by the MobileWorks API include document digitization, OCR, image tagging, and Web research.
MobileWork's workers include people from economically depressed areas of India, and about a third contribute using mobile phones. "All the folks working in our system are paid Fair Trade Wages and use MobileWorks to make better lives for themselves," the vendor says.