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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 ( and Clara Jo ( 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:
Full Bio is here:

Short Bio:

Michael Mandiberg is known for selling all of his possessions online on Shop Mandiberg, making perfect copies of copies on, and creating Firefox plugins that highlight the real environmental costs of a global economy on . 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,, a car direction site that incorporates the financial and carbon cost of driving, and Bright Bike, a retro-reflective bicycle 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

Work Samples
, 2009 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,,, etc. It is like nutrition information labeling for airplane emissions. The Real Costs was commissioned by

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.

O’Reilly Radar and Boing Boing picked up on the HOWTO CC post, which echoed through the blogs.  Some of of the louder echos are: Robin Good’s reposting, which includes ironic stock photographs (something I’ve been meaning to do!)

Eyebeam is holding a “How To Apply” Forum on April 16 at 7 PM featuring past Eyebeam Resident and recent Residency Curatorial Panelist Robert Ransick (Bennington College, Vermont) and current Eyebeam Senior Fellow Steve Lambert (Parsons/The New School and Hunter College).  The forum is a chance for those interetsed in applying to our current cycle of Eyebeam Residencies, open April 1 – May 15, to ask questions and have dicussions with those who have gone through it and seen both sides of the application process, both as an artist and a selection panelist.

Eyebeam Residencies
Summer / Fall 2009

You’ve got big ideas. You could use a little time and money, not to mention support and inspiration, to create a visionary project. Apply now for Eyebeam’s Summer/Fall 2009 Residency cycle. Residents are granted a $5,000 stipend and 24/7 access to Eyebeam’s state of the art digital design and fabrication studios at their Chelsea facility.

About the Residency

Eyebeam residencies support the creative research, production and presentation of initiatives querying art, technology and culture. The residency is a period of concentration and immersion in artistic investigation, daring research or production of visionary, experimental applications and projects. Past initiatives have ranged from live animation, sound and physical computing works to technical prototypes, installations and tactical media events. Check out what our current and past residents have been doing here:

The ideal resident will both contribute to and benefit from the collective environment at Eyebeam, and will embrace the spirit of openness shared across the organization: open source, open content and open distribution.

To promote collaboration and the sharing of diverse skill sets, Eyebeam has established and continues to encourage the formation of research groups that bring together creative practitioners working at Eyebeam as well as expert external participants.

New research often leads to public outcomes including seminars, workshops and exhibition. Research groups currently active at Eyebeam include:

•    Sustainability
•    Urban Research
•    Middle Eastern Research
•    Open Cultures

Artists and creative technologists interested in these research areas are particularly encouraged to apply for 2009 residencies, but we are also open to accepting ideas for emerging areas of research.

Eyebeam is also seeking proposals from artists whose practices:
a) actively engage different community groups, especially youth;
b) focus on open source/culture ideologies, including intellectual property, licensing issues and law; and/or
c) investigate sustainable models of food production and consumption and the impact of those models on society.

Residents are expected to participate in public events including workshops, demonstrations of research in progress, panel discussions, and online releases, in addition to regularly scheduled open studio events.

The program term is from the beginning of August to the end of January. Residents will be selected from an open call, based on the quality of the work or research being proposed, the availability of the necessary tools and skills to support the work, and in consideration of the overarching research themes and activities of the organization.

Eyebeam is committed to building a diverse creative environment. We recognize diversity as encompassing personal style, age, race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, language, physical ability, religion, family, citizenship status, socioeconomic circumstances, education and life experiences. We consequently encourage applications from the broadest possible range of artists and creative technologists to all of our programs.

To Apply

Applications are accepted via our online application system. We will be hosting a “How To Apply” Forum, in New York City, on April 16 at 7 PM featuring past Eyebeam Resident and recent Residency curatorial panelist Robert Ransick (Bennington College, Vermont) and current senior fellow Steve Lambert (Parsons/The New School and Hunter College).

Many of the most frequently asked questions are answered online. Be sure to visit our FAQ for applicants and Equipment Inventory List before you apply. If you have any questions, contact residencyinfo AT eyebeam DOT org.

Equipment Inventory List:

FAQ for applicants:

Go ahead, apply at:


Applications received after the deadline of May 15, 2009, will not be accepted. All applications and work samples must be submitted through the online form. No exceptions will be made. Incomplete applications will not be considered.

Complete applications must include the following information:

• Contact information;
• Resume or CV (rtf or pdf doc);
• Work samples in the form of URLs or uploaded media;
• Answers to all application questions.

Please be advised that Eyebeam’s online application system allows you to log into your user account to update your application until the final deadline. However, you must enter information into all required fields in order to save your application.

Permanent State of Emergency, video still

April 7 - 28: Eyebeam’s new window gallery in a Permanent State of Emergency

Date: April 7 - 28; Opening Reception: April 17, 6 - 8PM
Location: Eyebeam: 540 W. 21st, NYC
Cost: Free

Eyebeam is pleased to announce the opening of State of Emergency, the inaugural exhibition of the Window Gallery, our new rotating gallery space programmed by Eyebeam fellows and residents and viewable on West 21st Street. State of Emergency, a deliberately provocative projection series organized and co-curated by Sherry Millner and Ernest Larsen, includes work by Eyebeam senior fellow Michael Mandiberg, Mary Kelly, Allan Sekula, Walid Raad, Leslie Thornton, Gregory Sholette, Louis Hock, Marty Lucas, Sally Stein, Martha Rosler, Ligorano/Reese, Yvonne Rainer, James T. Hong, and Yin-Ju Chen, as well as Millner and Larsen themselves.

State of Emergency began several years ago as a silent shout-out against the ever-deepening devastation of democracy, a group response to the manufactured “state of emergency” in which we live. This updated version reinterprets that theme to include caustic responses to the ever-deepening economic collapse.

This inaugural exhibition in the Window Gallery is an initiative of senior fellow Michael Mandiberg.

Here’s a nice article in Digimag about the Triptych Party at Postmasters.


Go and see work I prepared special for this show entitled, Steve Lambert refused to participate in this exhibition because the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art does not budget for artists fees, mixed media, 2009.

Exhibition: April 4 – June 20, 2009
Opening Reception: Friday April 3, 6-8 PM

It’s Not Us, It’s You is an exhibition that explores the inevitability of rejection in our lives – a timely topic in today’s woeful economic climate. Through a tragic and sometimes heartbreaking lens, the artists in this exhibition respond to the reality of rejection with subversion, self-reflection, humor and brutal honesty. The show is guest curated by artist Ray Beldner and includes paintings, sculpture, video, and multi-media work from artists Anthony Discenza, Stephanie Syjuco, Michael Arcega, Kara Maria, Steve Lambert, Jonn Herschend, Dee Hibbert-Jones, Nomi Talisman, Desiree Holman, Orly Cogan, Kate Gilmore, Robert Eads and Arthur Gonzalez.

As part of It’s Not Us, It’s You, Beldner is compiling a book of artist rejection letters. Artists are invited to send their rejection letters via email to with “FOR REJECTION SHOW” in the subject by March 28. The ICA promises that no entries will be rejected for this project.

It’s Not Us, It’s You is presented in the ICA’s Focus Gallery, Cardinale Project Room and Night Moves windows (after-dark programming in the ICA’s front windows) from April 4 through June 20. An opening reception on Friday, April 3 from 6-8pm will feature an open-mic session for rejection confessions.

March 29 - April 4th, 2009
Eyebeam Roadshow
A group of us (Jeff, John, Michael, Yael and me) will be heading on the Eyebeam roadshow to give Workshops and talks at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Columbia College. I’m giving two workshops:
Technology As Identity, 3-6pm, Tuesday March 31st, Columbia College
Making Something Super, 9-1pm, Wednesday April [...]

A group of us are going to give a series of presentations and workshops in Illinois from March 30th - April 4th. Come check it out if yr in chicago.
Check out the schedule events and participants here: