Some Mechanical Turk job numbers

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle at 2:39 pm by George Smith

If you spend any time suffering with Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing jobs, the first thing you realize is that you’re not qualified for the majority of them, even “human intelligence tasks” that only pay a penny.

Here’s a breakdown of the total jobs advertised on Mechanical Turk today and those available to me with a 98 percent job completion rating in my profile.

40 cents: 179 of 412,672 (.04 percent of total)
30 cents: 214 of 412,672 (.052 percent of total)
20 cents: 307 of 412,672 (.07 percent of total)
10 cents: 394 of 412,672 (.095 percent of total)
5 cents: 548 of 412,672 (.13 percent of total)
1 cent : 921 of 412,672 (.22 percent of total)

These are minute percentages of the advertised body of work on Mechanical Turk. And they indicate high obstacles for qualifications for even work that pays as low as a penny a job.

If one sets the bar at a nickel job, one could do one hundred of the jobs
for which you were qualified (a totally unreachable goal) and still earn only five dollars.

If one looks into the technical document Amazon makes available to its “requesters” on qualifications, it lists only a few. There is the Master Worker qualification, defined only by Amazon Mechanical Turk, criteria unknown, except that it is given only to workers who exhibit high acceptance rate over “thousands” of “human intelligence tasks.

To even get close to thousands of hits takes a very long investment in time on the service as there really are no “human intelligence tasks” on Mechanical Turk that don’t take at least five to ten minutes to just find, read and accept.

In fact, it’s difficult to ascribe an average time to finding hits because it varies for every one while also being affected by return rates (in which the job is either not doable because of requester error or unacceptable as work for any number of reasons) or failure rates determined by requester rejection of work or simple requester acceptance but non-payment for work, neither of which are uncommon.

Not really unbelievably, on Amazon Mechanical Turk there are many clients who accept work and simply never pay for it. There is very little one can do about them as Amazon’s system is set up entirely in favor of its employer requesters.

One can find high-paying human intelligence task on Mechanical Turk (that is relative to the service), like making “movie reviews” of specified titles or transcribing hour long office conversations for anywhere from eight to 12 dollars, sometimes more. However, these all come with completely opaque qualification requirements and the average worker on Mechanical Turk cannot take advantage of them.

What Jeff Bezos’ Mechanical Turk tells us that in the future of the networked gig/free-lance economy, most of us aren’t qualified for work that pays even a cent. This is what awaits in a globally networked world where there are zero labor protections, only digital mechanisms which pit all against all for the sake of corporate America.

The future of work: Unqualified for 99 percent of it. Don’t kept paid for the rest.

The Strip — on Jeff Bezos’ concept of work — at the New York Times.


  1. Christoph Hechl said,

    December 10, 2013 at 3:47 am

    The average PC will consume about 150 – 200 watts.
    I have no idea what the prices per kWh are in the US, but i assume it’s pretty hard to just break even when doing these jobs.

  2. George Smith said,

    December 10, 2013 at 9:31 am

    We can figure that one out. From energy.gov, a figure…


    270 watts per hour including monitor

    Average price of electricity in Los Angeles County …


    20 cents a kilowatt hour, as opposed to national average of about 12 cents

    Ideally, with all the sifting and non-suitable human intelligence tasks one
    must sift through to find the number one can do, my best can do between
    45 cents and a dollar an hour, not more. That assumes looking for jobs
    the pay 40 cents and upward a task although you can enlarge the pool somewhat by going to 30 or 20 cents.

    Often you see stories where it is claimed the average pay is 1 dollar or $1.50 or something even a little higher for Mechanical Turk. But I’ve found they’re ludicrous. There is simply no regular way to make that using what’s delivered as available, Amazon Mechanical Turk’s front end and what you have to do to find such and get such work done.

    So, I’m averaging 45 cents an hour when on Mechanical Turk. The cost
    of electricity through the pc and monitor takes about half that, so you
    were pretty close.

  3. Bill said,

    December 10, 2013 at 9:38 pm

    I’m not a gamblin’ man but I think it would be a safe bet that Mr. Bezos would likely get kicked off the turk for not meeting requirements.

  4. George Smith said,

    December 11, 2013 at 9:28 am

    It’s a possibility. I remember the New York Times running a piece when it was first launched. Everyone clapping their hands at the marvel of crowdsourced instant work and results through the miracle of the networks.

    The stuff you read now is almost as bad. Much of it is just the publishing of outright lies on the true nature of it.