The 21 Bitcoin computer suffers from a perception problem. Most people hear it has a bitcoin mining chip in it, then proceed to evaluate it like any other miner, in terms of block reward ROI. But its true value comes from using it to buy and sell goods and services for bitcoin. A new project from Jeff Garzik, Bitcoin Core developer, enables automated payment for crowdsourced labor in the 21 Marketplace.
Mining for profit is not how the machine is designed to be used, which 21 Inc states explicitly in its FAQ:
“You should not purchase the 21 Bitcoin Computer and expect to make a profit from the satoshis you may receive, but you can potentially do very well by creating bitcoin-payable services.” – 21 Inc
Instead, the 21 Bitcoin computer is best understood just as a computer with bitcoin built in. It runs on the 21 Bitcoin OS, which the company describes as “the first Linux distribution that includes both the device drivers to generate a constantly replenished source of Bitcoin and a suite of programs written to natively consume it.” It is up to developers and users to create their own applications for the tools provided.
Earlier this week, Jeff Garzik released code for a nearly-complete project that enables a 21 Bitcoin computer to be used as a bitcoin-paying ‘mechanical Turk’ to crowdsource tasks. The software provides a framework for crowdsourcing microtasks and issuing micropayments for completed work.
The microtask model is similar to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, a crowdsourced labor service that pays workers small amounts for performing tasks that cannot be easily automated, such as identifying photographs or formatting product names. The “mechanical Turk” name comes from a chess-playing automaton from the 18th century, which was eventually exposed as a hoax that relied on a human operator inside the machine.
Garzik’s “turk” code provides a means to set up a crowdsourced work assignment and pay out workers for completing that assignment. It also provides a link to the 21 Marketplace, where other users can find the advertised jobs. In the turk API demo, a supervisor submits an image and a list of questions about it. Workers view the image and submit answers to the questions. The API then collects the work and pays for accurate answers.
The code is still untested and incomplete, described by Garzik as “98% there.” What is still being perfected is a means for automated validation of the submitted work. After a specified number of workers complete the task, the answers are compared with one another and with an expected answer. The most accurate answers, as measured by the most matches, earn a bitcoin reward, which gets paid out automatically.
Other crowdsourcing services solve this problem with division of labor – producing work is one task, reviewing it is another, through as many iterations as necessary to produce the desired results. Automating the review process adds a new dimension to this crowdsourcing solution. A future solution might involve some form of machine learning, possibly enabled by the purchase of distributed computing resources on demand through the 21 Marketplace.
Since it is still a new piece of bitcoin hardware as well as a new design concept, user-developers are still coming up with ways that the 21 Bitcoin computer might be put to good use. The company’s CEO suggested a few use cases when the computer was released–selling digital files, renting the use of hardware, or selling API calls. Crowdsourcing labor with applications like the mechanical Turk is a natural extension of bitcoin’s distributed nature.
Applications like Turk can distribute the workload for any project to any and all participants worldwide, and can also greatly reduce the friction for offering and accepting work and for getting paid. Crowdsourced labor offers advantages for workers and clients alike, and bitcoin is lowering the barriers to entry.
What do you think of Jeff Garzik’s new project? Let us know in the comments below!