I was walking around downtown Philadelphia earlier today and seeing all the people walking around with nothing to do or panhandling, it got me thinking.  

How can we inject money into this ecosystem in other ways than welfare or charity?  For all the success that micro-lending has had in India and other countries, we haven’t really seen those benefits in American Urban areas. This can probably be explained by the lack of internet access/ or awareness.

What other alternatives are out there? 

Amazon’s Mechanical Turk provides access to a large market of simple tasks that a human can do better than a machine. These tasks range from tagging objects in photos to writing brief sentences.

Doing some quick Googling, I found a few people doing experiments on Mechanical Turk and found that you can make about $7/ hour.  Compared to welfare payouts that’s a 5x increase of monthly income. Not too bad.

Let’s build a Turk  station with a built in cash machine. Someone can walk up do a few tasks and pay out right there. No need to have a computer, set up accounts, or anything which would keep urban poor out of the market.


Single stations don’t scale very well. They are more expensive to produce and maintain. However, they are a good proof of concept which can inform the creation of turk shops, small computer labs where people can work indoors and at a desk. Think a library computer room but with a cashier.

Of course there are hurdles and inefficiencies, but they are nothing compared to the systems already in place. And, think of the impact they could have in those areas of town you avoid walking through.

Mechanical Turk Stations for the Urban Poor