Amazon is testing a service that allows computers to use human intelligence to solve tasks that programs are not very good at – such as identifying people in photos.

The Mechanical Turk service (named after a fake Hungarian chess playing automaton called the Turk that actually pitted a real chess player against a human opponent) allows anyone to submit tasks – called HITs (human intelligence tasks) – and specify how much they are prepared to pay for each one completed.

If the requestor of the HIT is satisfied, the person that completed it receives payment – Amazon takes a 10 percent cut of any transactions.

Tasks on the service range from Podcast transcriptions ($5 for a 30-minute recording) to research questions ("What is the number of users for MSN hotmail, Yahoo Mail and Google GMail so far?", worth a whole two cents).

While it looks like a cheap method for companies to compile masses of data, it's not such a great earner for the people answering the questions – although as more people use the system that may well change as companies raise their rates to attract better quality answers.

[via Silicon Valley Sleuth]