Boris Smus

interaction engineering

Crowdsourcing code

As a follow up to my last post, I posted a HIT on Mechanical Turk asking 20 turkers if they know Java. I paid them 5 cents to answer the question. Surprisingly, 9 of 20 claimed to know. I was amazed at how strong selection bias was in this case, since surely not 50% of turkers know how to program! I then asked those turkers who know Java to complete the following trivial Java method. If they wrote it correctly, I paid them a 45 cent bonus.

public static String reverse(String source) {
  // your code here 

Here are the results:

  • 4 turkers used StringBuffer.reverse
  • 3 turkers created a new string by iterating through the original string in reverse
  • 1 used recursion
  • 1 used Collections.sort(l). I'm not sure what was intended

I was hoping that people would fill in the empty reverse method with their code, but many of them implemented their own methods and helpers. One person implemented their own class with extensive comments. This data as a nice existence proof, indicating that turkers can be harnessed for programming-related crowdsourcing.

I'd like to turn Mechanical Turkers into Mechanical Coders. Given a set of unit tests and a method to implement, their work could be automatically verified based on passing the unit tests. Furthermore, some turkers could be tasked to write additional unit tests for this method. Through this technique, it's conceivable to harness the power of The Turk to implement whole classes. Code quality aside, what sort of software quality could be achieved by following this approach?