Online labor markets may look competitive. They aren’t.

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
August 2, 2018

People often think that online markets are far more efficient and competitive than traditional ones. This may not be so. In a new National Bureau of Economic Research paper, Arindrajit Dube, Jeff Jacobs, Suresh Naidu and Siddharth Suri find that a highly important online labor market is characterized by power relations so that workers lose out, and the people and organizations who hire them enjoy market power. I asked Suresh Naidu what this research means.

HF — Your article examines a relatively new kind of online labor market — Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. What is Mechanical Turk, and how does it work?

SN — Mechanical Turk (which is often abbreviated as MTurk) is a very popular crowdsourcing platform. It’s a website where requesters can post tasks and workers can do those tasks for pay. Typical tasks include things like tagging images or transcribing video or audio, which are all tasks that are easy for humans but hard for machines. In fact, MTurk has been absolutely essential for machine learning and artificial intelligence; it is how many scientists and engineers produce large batches of the accurately labeled data that helps artificial intelligence to learn which data goes under which category. For example, if you want to use machine learning to distinguish between photos of cats and photos of dogs, it can be helpful to have a set of labeled photos that help the algorithm figure out what to look for. This is how MTurk workers or “Turkers” have helped fuel the “AI Revolution.”

Read the full piece at The Washington Post