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Technical Perspective: Humans and Computers Working Together on Hard Tasks

By Ed H. Chi

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 60 No. 9, Page 92

The field of crowdsourcing and human computation has evolved considerably from its early days. At first, crowdsourcing was mainly conceived as a way to obtain ground truth labels for datasets, particularly image datasets, in the mid-2000s. Soon after, researchers began to utilize crowdsourcing for performing large-scale user studies of systems.a,b As our understanding of crowdsourcing continued to evolve, researchers realized the workers can be reserved ahead of time to perform real-time tasks.c Utilizing this idea, the system described in the following paper demonstrates how a crowd of workers can caption speech nearly as well as a professional captionist. Importantly, this paper was one of the first in a recent set of crowdsourcing papers that demonstrated how human workers can collaborate in concert with computing systems to accomplish a real-time task that is difficult for either one to do by itself. This is notable for many reasons, but let me first summarize the significance of this work.

First, the system demonstrated that significant innovation is needed to get human workers to productively perform the captioning task. For example, the Scribe system slows down the continuous speech for a brief period of time with the right volume changes to emphasize what passage to transcribe for the worker. The volume variations help with audio saliency. This technique is interesting to human-computer interaction (HCI) researchers, since it utilizes our intuition about how we can direct human attention, helping to transform individual untrained workers into better captionists.


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