Relying on crowds for content is not new (thank you, Wikipedia) but embedding a crowd into a word processing program is. That’s just the type of human-computer interaction Michael Bernstein SM ’08, a PhD student in MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, works on.
His Soylent plug-in for Microsoft Word adds an on-demand human element when a user needs someone to shorten, edit, or proofread a document. Soylent is linked to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, a crowdsourced Internet marketplace where workers are paid small amounts of money (often cents) to complete simple tasks. Recruiting a worker to proofread your text is about as easy to initiate as spell check. The program breaks documents into small pieces and automatically shows the edits back in Word.
Other tasks, called human macros, can also be performed. These are more complex actions, for example to convert a paragraph to a different tense, that need to be specified by the requester using a simple form.
See how it works below.