On January 2, 2017, a thread on the r/mturk/ subreddit pointed out a strange listing on the Amazon Mechanical Turk site, a crowdsourcing platform for low-wage electronic tasks just a little too difficult or expensive for companies to automate. Amongst routine requests for image identification, speech-to-text transcription, and other tasks demanding the attention of a living person, the post asked for a brief poem. “Write a short poem about your work,” it read. “Do not plagiarize. The poem can be as short or as long as you would like.”
The request felt a little odd compared to the more typically utilitarian listings on the service. At $0.01 per piece, it hardly seemed like adequate compensation for more traditionally commissioned poetry. But something about it caught the eye of a few Mechanical Turk workers on Reddit, who quickly started speculating about the intentions of whoever requested the work. “What do you think was the requester’s aim in this very weird task?,” asked Reddit user swyx. “Weird. But interesting. I imagine they’d be able to get better poetry out of Reddit [through other means] but that seems not to be the goal.”