I'm looking for a label to describe the practice of using human-based computation methods or other means of "faking" an algorithm for the sake of getting a product or demo off the ground quickly without spending the time to develop an technical/scalable/analytical solution? Eg: using Amazon Turk to count the number of empty tables in a restaurant.

I'm also looking to learn more about this subject, but not sure what to search for. Human-based computation is only one method, I'm interested in the general idea of pseudo-implementation. Any ideas, recommended reading?

  • Or to take another well known use case, using child laborers in third world countries to break captchas instead of breaking the captchas programmatically?
    – user16764
    Commented Nov 15, 2012 at 1:13
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    I think the term "mocking" pretty well fits what you are describing.
    – Nicole
    Commented Nov 15, 2012 at 17:35

3 Answers 3


This is called Wizard of Oz prototyping.

Wizard of Oz prototyping is a popular approach in HCI to evaluate new human-computer interfaces. It is typically used if a system is expensive to build but can be easily faked by a human sitting in the other room. Thus the name.

  • 5
    Interesting, had honestly never heard that name before.
    – haylem
    Commented Nov 15, 2012 at 1:50
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    So this technique may have originated in the field of HCI? I guess the term "Mechanical Turk" from which Amazon Turk gets it's name, refers to the fake 18th Century chess playing machine. I think a Wizard of Oz prototyping icon should be designed to be displayed on websites using this method. Rather than being associated with deception, I think the technique should become more widely promoted as a prototyping tool
    – Edan
    Commented Nov 15, 2012 at 3:09
  • 4
    – StuperUser
    Commented Nov 15, 2012 at 17:04

A well-known example of this sort of problem is the Mechanical Turk, where a person hid inside and controlled what otherwise appeared to be a chess-playing machine. Mechanical Turk the most widely-used term for it that I've encountered, even though I think I like akuhn's suggestion of Wizard of Oz prototyping as a more evocative and easier-to-explain name.

  • The term Spike is used to describe quickly developed proofs-of-concept involving non-production-ready systems. A (design) spike usually includes either mocking up other parts of the system or low-quality implementations of them, in order to explore the design of the feature you are working on.
    – Chris Bye
    Commented Nov 15, 2012 at 16:53

Seems like this would be related to crowdsourcing; just minus the public aspect. You might want to include that in your keyword search.


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