Rhizome Proposal

The Collected Memories of the Mechanical Turk

Project description

1. An overview

Amazon has a web service called the Mechanical Turk where you can have humans perform simple repetitive tasks for you. They call it “Artificial Artificial Intelligence.” I propose to document the inner life and experiences of the Amazon’s Mechanical Turk workforce by creating tasks that explore the personal memories of these workers, as our lives are transformed by cheap bandwidth and outsourcing that is made possible by the Internet

2. The People & The Project

I am proposing a web project that queries Amazon’s Mechanical Turk workers about their memories, their ambitions, their lives, their ages, trying to gain an insight into the lives of the people of the Global Village/Global-Factory-Town. People whom we interact with in fleeting glimpses as customer service representatives, after being on hold for longer than planned, and before being put back on hold to be transferred to another department.

Amazon’s Mechanical Turk allows you to create tasks for human workers to complete. Often they are rote repetitive tasks that automate some process that could not be done by software. As Amazon dubs it: “Artificial Artificial Intelligence.” I will ask the Mechanical Turk workers about their memory; what they remember and what they forget, what they desire, and what they have lost. And on a practical level, how old they are, what level of education they have, and where they live.

3. The Outcome

These queries will be rendered as an interactive website, displaying the ages, locations, memories, and emotional states of these individuals who make up the Mechanical Turk workforce. It will also be turned into an artist book, somewhat like a book of found poetry, somewhat like a small town census. The book will be gracefully designed, and depending on cost it will be printed in an edition of 1000, or done via print on demand.


I will be working with assistants on this project. My current assistants are Patrick Davison (http://www.whereikeepmythingsontheinternet.com/) and Clara Jo (http://www.clarajo.com/). They will be assisting with research, design, and programming as needed

Production Timeline

Assuming a start date of July (based off of a submission deadline of April 2), I expect it to take:

One month to build and design the interface to the Mechanical Turk API (July)
Two months of input from the Mechanical Turk workers (August-September)
Two months to edit and layout the book for printing (October-November)

The whole schedule could be delayed to comply with final grant deadlines.

Project Budget

Artist Fee/Artist Labor:
20 weeks, 20hrs/week, @ $6.75 (minimum wage)

Studio Cost:
5 months @ $600/mo equivalent (provided by Eyebeam)

Hosting/Domain Registration 1yr

Research Assistance
($2000 Funded by College of Staten Island/CUNY Grant)

Payments to Mechanical Turk workers (each task will be $1, so $1000 will lead to 1000 entries.)

Artist Book costs


Total secured from other sources

Subtotal required to complete project

Total requested from Rhizome

Total funded by artist (from personal salary)

Curriculum Vitae

Full CV is here: http://www.mandiberg.com/cv/
Full Bio is here: http://www.mandiberg.com/about/

Short Bio:

Michael Mandiberg is known for selling all of his possessions online on Shop Mandiberg, making perfect copies of copies on AfterSherrieLevine.com, and creating Firefox plugins that highlight the real environmental costs of a global economy on TheRealCosts.com . His current projects include the co-authored groundbreaking Creative Commons licensed textbook Digital Foundations: an Intro to Media Design that teaches Bauhaus visual principles through design software, HowMuchItCosts.us, a car direction site that incorporates the financial and carbon cost of driving, and Bright Bike, a retro-reflective bicycle treehugger.com praised as “obnoxiously bright.” He is a Senior Fellow at Eyebeam, and an Assistant Professor at the College of Staten Island/CUNY. He lives in, and rides his bicycle around, Brooklyn. His work lives at Mandiberg.com

Work Samples

, 2009
HowItCosts.us is a Google maps upgrade that calculates gas consumption and emissions along with trip directions.

The Real Costs
, 2007
Real Costs is a Firefox plug-in that calculates the environmental impact of air travel by adding CO2 emissions data to airfare websites such as Orbitz.com, United.com, Delta.com, etc. It is like nutrition information labeling for airplane emissions. The Real Costs was commissioned by Rhizome.org.

Oil Standard, 2006
Oil Standard is a Firefox plugin that convers all prices on a webpage into barrles of crude oil, exploring the moment when oil replace(d) gold as the standard by which we trade all goods and currencies.

Bush Poll, 2004
There are 153 persons named George Bush in the US phone directory; during the run up to the 2004 election I performed an opinion survey about their political opinions, their polarization over political issues, and their potential reflection of an American people divided over their Presidential representation.