From Data-Driven Medicine

Automating the crowd: Who is the real Mechanical Turk?

Richard Milne was an organiser on this collaborative, cross-disciplinary workshop at the Alan Turing Institute

Automating the crowd: Who is the real Mechanical Turk?

22nd January 2019

Event description from Alan Turing Institute website:

The relationship between automation and human work is a longstanding area of concern and reflection, and raises questions around public policy and across disciplinary boundaries. The use of ‘crowdsourced’ efforts and the increasing diversity of contributors in human-machine interactions presents particular challenges. Together these raise complex questions that have technical, social and ethical implications.

Automating the crowd is a one day workshop which will bring together participants from neuroscience, digital humanities, sociology, health and other disciplines to shape the public debate around these challenges.


About the event

The collaborative workshop focuses on four topics as a frame for discussion:

  • Locating the real Mechanical Turk
  • Collaboration or competition?
  • Community factors and motivation
  • Digital literacy and fair inclusion

Automating the crowd will create a space for dialogue and enquiry about the relationship between automation and human work, which we hope will act as an incubator for future collaborations across disciplines and professions. Participants will be encouraged to share their own ideas and will be invited to engage with and shape proposals from the organisers about new writing projects and networks.

The workshop aims to reflect on how human work can be hidden within apparently automated systems in a discussion of ‘Who is the real Mechanical Turk?’ It will also focus on the importance of human ‘microwork’ in the development of automated systems, for instance in considering the case of crowdsourced health research and its role in informing the development of machine learning systems.

During the workshop, participants will consider questions about how and why people come to be involved in the development and use of automated systems and how their involvement is shaped by social, political and economic factors associated with digital literacy and community engagement.

Related Link:


Alexander A, Bodra A, Milne R, Whitaker K, 2019. Automating the crowd: Who is the real Mechanical Turk? 22nd January. The Alan Turing Institute, London, UK