User:Max Dovey/Reading Writing Research Methodologies/Mechanicalturk

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notes from 'Return of the Crowds - Mechanical turk and neoliberal states of exception' by Ayhan Aytes.

How cognitive labor is configured in the amazon market place to produce a neoliberal state of exception.

Mechanical Turk and Enlightenment

Amazon names its digital workforce 'mechanical turk' after Wolfgang von kempelen's invention of a automated chess playing turk mannequin in 1770. The open secret of the contraption was the illusion of the turk playing chess , when infect it was operated by a human assistant hidden from view. The Turk challenged common views of the enlightenment era and presented a detached mind and soul. During the second half of the 18th century automata was experimented with to test social ideals and power structures mediated through systems and machines. The animation of machinery and the mechanisation of life was explored in other fields during this time and reflects a popular line of enquiry during enlightenment - "can the mind exist without the body? " the answer was simultaneously yes and not yet.The open secret that the mechanical turk was an illusion reflects the automata , a.i. and their ability to operate power through mechanicalized knowledge.

In relation to Foucoult's 'Discipline and Punish' the training of two registers, the mind and the body as separate registers, had yet to be considered. There is also a clear visual of the man behind the curtain (oz effect) exercising power and control through automated mechanisms.

The turk suggested that knowledge could be systematically performed through a mechanical system. Self regulating systems began to fuel enlightenment visions of democracy and the liberated subject, philosophers of the time began to make arguments towards social automata system that would be free from subjective conflict and therefore objective and self managing.

Leibniz ( a philosopher of the time) even went to far to define the mind as a mechanical spirt that could be invoked and operated through pre determined laws. This would produce a universal symbolic language, a 'calculus ratiocinator' that would be able to solve disputes between people all over the world, conflicts when mechanised could be solved through automated solutions.

The role of the Chessboard is important in the mechanical turk as Delleuze and Gutarri state " Chess is a game of state , or of the court: the emperor of China played it. Chess pieces are cded; they have an internal nature and intrinsic properties from which therir movements, situations, and confrontations derive. " Chess is an institutionalised, regulated coded war.

To conclude on the importance of the context of the mechanical turk - the automated chessboard represents an ideal apparatus (reflective of the enlightenment theology), where subjects are controlled and operated through coded actions and symbolism that is regulated through a objective and systematic automation.

As the application of mental labor into systematic and automated objects became more frequent during the 19th century theorists such as Charles Babbage thought that the process of division of mental labor would serve for the eventual goal of transferring the functions of the human cognitive labor to the operations of the machine. Edgar Allan Poe presented the Kemplen (the inventor of the mechanical turk) as an alchemist of turning gold into lead, this narrative can be read in the value of intellectual labor as it becomes mechanised through the division of cognitive labor. Industrial capitalism sought to make production more efficient by dividing labor into small units, tasks that require only cognitive labor to produce something of capital (making intellectual labor redundant) .

UNIFICATION Humans and apparatuses begin to unify leading to humans controlling machines that control us. The mechanical devices we know and use today are apparatuses with a codified set of social relations and simultaneously support industrialised capitalism and maintain state discipline. Aytes references Focult again here, denoting the strategic consolations of these devices for supporting and controlling knowledge in "Apparatus/Dispositif". The term apparatus is a useful vantage point when looking at the mechanicalization of the mind (and how control can be operated) if you look at Foucault's prison and the architecture / psychological analogy of the panoptican. The analysis of the evolution of the industrial cognitive labor apparatus from its imaginary conceptual enlightenment prototype to large scale computational systems in postindustrial capitalism needs to take into account the neoliberal grounds of its emergence.

The difference between Crowds and multitudes Lazzarato defines immaterial labor as when the social takes economic form, this capital exchange , where the production of today is a production of a social relation. This production of subjectivity is a form of cognitive labor that in its network creates the infrastructure of the multitude. The multitude creates mass economic capital from the exchange of subjective production. Compared to crowds the multitude self manages a collective workforce through individual capital production, because the digital worker does it through sharing, liking, following. The difference between crowds and multitudes can be reflected in the distinction between Facoult's discipline society and Delleuze society of control. crowds reflect industrial discipline where multitudes are in the context of a control society , where the command is fracturlized. Command of the multitude is through networks, codes, and digital time space.


Hardt and NEgir characterise the work of the subject in the concept of the multitude to provide new possibilities for economic self management, because the act of labor contains social co-operation and subjects bond and manage themselves to produce capital. Compared to the factory line of the industral age( where each subject had their specalism) now individual units collaborate and co-operate to produce subjective capital. The multitude is the workforce for the digital economy of free services like google, Facebook etc.

The crowdsourcing marketplace apparatus defies the multitude concept of subjective capital production and lies in a disturbing place between industrial and post industrial configuration of labor. In digital labor markets maintained by crowdsourcing protocols , crowds are divided into individual units of production that can self manage within the multitude whilst sill be exploited in an industrial post fordist way. For example each person works on a part of a project, maybe borrowing skills of each other, but the labor is still from an individual subject that goes towards a greater good that each node cannot see. (relevant work Koblin http://www.tenthousandcents.com/top.html) In the Mechanical turk market place capital can be created by individual units that whilst co-operatively produce capital relations work as industrial individual subject, not knowing the end product. Its harnarcing the power of the multitude to produce capital whilst simultanesouly keeping the fragmentation of the industrial production line.

crowdsourcing as a neoliberal exception apparatus. A Neoliberal state of exception is the formation of environments that avoid sovereign or juridicial view to facilitate labor and capital outside of legal frameworks. (think tax havens) These formations are built with the detteretorillization and autonomous agency of computational networks. Labor arbitrage is on neoliberal state of exemption- is a strategy that creates conditions for governing by dettertorillizing labor where legal policies of labor can be obscured and monopolised within. The breakdown of tasks to be performed through cognitive labor is an avoidance of labor regulations and utilises the crowd to create a globalised factory of producing units.


mechanical turk workers can easily work over the legal limit (they can work constantly, if they choose) for a micropayment, examples have been shown that if you do enough hits per day one young man from india can make the marketplace as his main form of income. Digital networks help this labor arbitrage by being always on, this 'timeless time' creates a time arbitrage. Time and labor arbitrage both offer neoliberalism maximum globalised production , 24hours a day at minimum costs,

If the digital network is the assembly line of cognitive labor, then the mechanical turk is its model apparatus. Because the cognitive tasks on AMT are fragmented they not only produce the desired result from the task algorithm , but are produced by the algorithm that disciplines the subject and controls the flow of cognitive labor.


//The success of the mechanical turk at the time was also related to a anglo westerner perception that the representation of the turk (of orient origin) was able to mechanise the mind due their strict religious code