As many of you know, my recent interest has been “just hiring people to do stuff”.
Let me make a case for why I think this is research, and why it is important.
Mankind has never before had such easy, affordable, and fast access to expert labor at such a small scale.
I’m not talking about Mechanical Turk. I’m talking about real expertise: people who know how to program, people who know how to draw, people who know how to write. These people can be found on sites like oDesk, Freelancer and Elance. They can be hired within a day, sometimes within an hour, for bite-sized projects as small as $5. Few people do this, however. Few people know they can, but the day is coming.
We are on the cusp of a new way of working.
Consider the effect web search had on information. As I write this blog post, I make Google queries to gain and verify information. I think about information differently because of web search — I need less of it in my head.
Consider the effect outsourcing may have on expertise. As I write this blog post, why am I not dictating in crude Greg-isms to an expert word-smith that I hired just now to craft these sentences? We will think about expertise differently because of outsourcing — we will need to acquire less of it ourselves.
We needed to learn how to use web search as part of our everyday workflow. We didn’t know how at first. Not everyone knows how even now. My mom has difficulty forming effective search queries. But it is a crucial skill to acquire.
We need to learn how to outsource as part of our everyday workflow. Practically nobody knows how. Most outsourcing is large scale — an entire website, or an entire program. It is like searching Google for a book on Java programming, and then reading the book, rather than searching for specific information needs when they arise.
The game is changing. This isn’t just bridging the gap in AI until we get there, this is the industrial revolution of knowledge work. It will change the economic, cultural and political landscape of mankind. It is worth researching.
Greg Little is an n-year PhD student at MIT. He is finishing his thesis as we speak, on human computation algorithms.