Keystroke Lotteries: A Speculative Essay Part I

You log onto a website where you find a list of typesetting, proofreading, odin99, or translation projects. Each requires a specific application, such as Word or Excel. All of them are commonly available.

You choose a PDF file containing images of 100 pages of handwritten text of no interest to anyone but the owner, who is offering $100 to have it all typed by midnight.

But within a minute you are too bored to continue. Without hesitation you click the browser window closed and three hours later the full $100 is deposited to your Paypal account.

Some days later, reading about a recent local murder, you realize that you knew the victim and who her murderer might be. But you don’t want to risk going public with the information. And you don’t trust the police and the courts to safeguard your identity.

You log on to a secure website that allows you and the police to exchange messages securely without them ever knowing who you are. Nor can they ever know unless you tell them first. You give them your hunch.

In the hypothetical situation described above, you began to type out handwritten text that had been scanned into a PDF. But so did hundreds, perhaps thousands, of others. Working simultaneously, many quitting just like you did as others joined in, the 100-page project was completely typed with time to spare. The funder of the lottery not only got a great deal at a page-rate of one dollar, the work was finished much faster than could have been done using conventional pay-arrangements. And the capacity to automatically count and record the total number of different keystrokes you and everyone else typed all but guaranteed a numerical keystroke-consensus per written character.

You can see why someone would fund such a lottery: programmatic redundancy is always best in data entry and proofreading. It is often good in copy editing, and might even be good in certain kinds of translations, such as non-stylistic, non-literary efforts where speed and legal intelligibility alone are paramount. Redundancy is the principle behind crowdsourcing, defined by Wikipedia as the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to an undefined, large group of people or community (a “crowd”), through an open call.

Because the total amount of money offered ($100) was rather small as compared to conventional lotteries, during the auction (which was for a place in the site’s work-queue), the owner of the pages guaranteed a winner and specified no lower limit on the total quantity of keystrokes per person needed to win. That means to play, you needed only to type the minimum number of keystrokes sufficient to establish a context on the page, verifiable by enough others typing the same keystrokes to represent the same handwritten letter or digit. In this example, had the document started with A, then that single keystroke would have earned a chance to win the payout.

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