Monday, November 19, 2007

Mechanical Turk: Crowdsourcing goes mainstream!

We've long been interested in crowdsourcing as a growing social phenomenon--where the collective knowledge and expertise of crowds (irrespective of actual "credentials" etc.) is tapped as an important knowledge and resource building resource. has recently released Mechanical Turk, a service that capitalizes on the fact that there are some tasks that humans can do much better than computers (e.g., distinguish specific items within a photo). The nomeclature "mechanical turk" is a direct remix of von Kempelen's "mechanical chess-playing automaton" (c. 1796) which appeared to be a complex machine (with intricate cogs and gears revealed via a sliding back-panel) that was able to beat any number of well-known chess players. Later it was found that the automaton actually concealed a live and very skillful human chess master... This history resonates with Amazon's Mechanical Turk tag line: "Artificial artificial intelligence" where humans collectively contribute intelligence that can then be manipulated by computers in different ways (e.g., in the form of solving software coding problems, providing preference lists for subsequent aggregation and comparison).

In terms of how Amazon's Mechnical Turk operates, you sign in using your Amazon account and check which tasks you're qualified to complete. These tasks are referred to as "HITS" -- human intelligence tasks. HITS we've completed so far include ranking our favourite 3 songs on particular music albums, ranking favourite foods, and so on. Each HIT completed (and accepted by the requestor behind the HIT earns a specified amount of "reward" dollars and cents that are later credited to your Amazon account (so far we've completed 13 HITs for a grand total of $0.13 reward cents--we're off to a strong start! We see some HITS offering $5.00 in reward for an accepted response, so there's our next set of tasks!).

Or, you yourself can sign-up to be a "requestor" and post a HIT to which you would like people to respond. In fact, that's how we came to know about Mechanical Turk--through reading Hugh Hancock and Johnnie Ingram's suggestion for finding beta viewers for one's new machinima show.

Time will tell how successful Mechanical Turk is in terms of getting stuff done in manageable and streamlined ways, but it's unquestionably a watershed moment in ongoing trends towards collective intelligence mediated by online services and applications. We can't help but think of James Surowiecki's claim that "under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them" (The Wisdom of Crowds, 2005, xiii). Perhaps Mechanical Turk will turn out to be one of those "right circumstances".

Remix: Looking for classroom examples

I'm just wondering if any of you have encountered interesting examples of digital remix being done--with the teacher's blessing :D -- in classrooms. Remix can include music remixing of any kind, along with photoshopping, fan fiction, music videos, machinima, anime music videos, etc. etc. (For more of what I'm on about here, see: My hunch is that remix practices hven't yet found their way into classrooms in any formal way, but if you *do* know of examples where it has, we'd really appreciate hearing about 'em!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Why William Gibson is still cool

If everyday literacies should be about anything at all it should first and foremost be about reading and writing the everyday.

And who better than a cool science fiction visionary to do exactly that?

When it comes down it, prescience is now.

Prescience fiction?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Call for book reviewers

Dana Wilber and I are the book review editors for e-Learning. We have a stack of lovely books from Peter Lang available for reviewing. the list and associated URL is below--send me (Michele: an email if you're interested in reviewing one or more of these books. I'll see you get the book and some reviewing guidelines.

1. Queer Girls and Popular Culture- Reading, Resisting, and Creating Media- Driver, Susan

2. New Media and Public Relations - Duhe, Sandra

3. Queer Online: Media Technology and Sexuality - O'Riordan/Phillips (eds)

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Fifty Worst Cars of All Time

OK, I concede it *is* a bit blokey, but I have to confess to having had some wonderful moments over the past few days idling through The 50 Worst Cars of All Time, presented by Pulitzer Prize winning automotive critic, Dan Neil, for Time magazine. Produced to mark the 50th anniversary of the ultimate hell on wheels, the 1958 Ford Edsell, the page offers a panorama of pure delight. The images are great, the cars' credentials for the award cannot be faulted, and Neil's turns of phrase and conceptual gestalts are sublime.

I mean, what could possibly top this appraisal of Colin Chapman's 1958 fibreglass-bodied disaster, the Lotus Elite? "It was also a lovely little coupe, which which made the moment when the suspension mounts punched through the stressed-skin monocoque all the more pathetic. The unreinforced fiberglass couldn't take the structural strain. In Chapman's cars, failure was always an option."

But don't take my word for it, or this one example -- after all it could be an isolated occurrence. Check it out for some outrageous fun. Along the way you'll be pleasured by eye candy like the incomparable 1958 (it was a wicked year) Zundapp Janus.

Enjoy. This one's for you, boyz.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The 24/7 DIY Video Summit

The 24/7 DIY Video Summit being organised out of the University of Southern California's Institute for Multimedia Literacy and School of Cinematic Arts looks like a "must attend" event for anyone who has an interest in multimedia literacy and can be in LA from 8-10 February 2008.

The website gives all the information, and registration rates are friendly. In fact, a lot of the stuff is free for entry. There is a fascinating speaker program and a mighty research interests panel.

Coincidentally, Michele found the URL on the very day we (finally) formally began work on our latest book project -- to be an edited collection on DIY Media. We have been sitting on the contract for a while, and have only now found the time to get the project underway. In view of the Summit it seems a timely project to be getting stuck into.

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