Using Mechanical Turk

Author: Will Feng

In ParlAI, you can use Amazon Mechanical Turk for data collection, training and evaluation of your dialog model.

Human Turkers are viewed as just another type of agent in ParlAI, and hence person-to-person, person-to-bot, or multiple people and bots in group chat can all talk to each other within the same framework.

The human Turkers communicate in observation/action dict format, the same as all other agents in ParlAI. During the conversation, the message that human Turkers receive is rendered on the live chat webpage in a pretty printed format, similar to the following:


Example: Human Turker participating in a QA data collection task

Each MTurk task has at least one human Turker that connects to ParlAI via the Mechanical Turk Live Chat interface, encapsulated as an MTurkAgent object.

Each MTurk task also consists of a World where all agents live and interact within.

Example Tasks

We provide a few examples of using Mechanical Turk with ParlAI:

  • QA Data Collection: collect questions and answers from Turkers, given a random Wikipedia paragraph from SQuAD.
  • Model Evaluator: ask Turkers to evaluate the information retrieval baseline model on the Reddit movie dialog dataset.
  • Multi-Agent Dialog: round-robin chat between two local human agents and two Turkers.

Task 1: Collecting Data

One of the biggest use cases of Mechanical Turk is to collect natural language data from human Turkers.

As an example, the QA Data Collection task does the following:

  1. Pick a random Wikipedia paragraph from SQuAD dataset.
  2. Ask a Turker to provide a question given the paragraph.
  3. Ask the same Turker to provide an answer to their question.

In QADataCollectionWorld, there are two agents: one is the human Turker (MTurkAgent), the other is the task agent (DefaultTeacher from SQuAD) that provides the Wikipedia paragraph.

The QADataCollectionWorld uses turn_index to denote what stage the conversation is at. One turn means that world.parley() has been called once.

After two turns, the task is finished, and the Turker’s work is submitted for your review.

Task 2: Evaluating a Dialog Model

You can easily evaluate your dialog model’s performance with human Turkers using ParlAI. As an example, the Model Evaluator task does the following:

  1. Initialize a task world with a dialog model agent (ir_baseline) and a dataset (MovieDD-Reddit).
  2. Let all the agents in the task world observe() and act() once, by calling parley() on the world.
  3. Ask the human Turker to rate the dialog model agent’s response on a scale of 0-10.

In ModelEvaluatorWorld, there are two main components: one is the task_world that contains the task and the dialog model we are evaluating, the other is the MTurkAgent which is an interface to the human Turker.

Note that since the human Turker speaks only once to provide the rating, the ModelEvaluatorWorld doesn’t need to use turn_index to keep track of the turns.

After one turn, the task is finished, and the Turker’s work is submitted for your review.

Task 3: Multi-Agent Dialog

ParlAI supports dialogs between multiple agents, whether they are local ParlAI agents or human Turkers. In the Multi-Agent Dialog task, two local human agents and two Turkers engage in a round-robin chat, until the first local human agent sends a message ending with [DONE], after which other agents will send a final message and the task is concluded.

This task uses the MultiAgentDialogWorld which is already implemented in parlai.core.worlds.

Creating Your Own Task

ParlAI provides a generic MTurk dialog interface that one can use to implement any kind of dialog tasks. To create your own task, start with reading the tutorials on the provided examples, and then copy and modify the example, and files to create your task.

A few things to keep in mind:

  1. To end a conversation, you should send a message with episode_done = True from the first non-MTurk agent, and the conversation is ended after all MTurk agents respond.
  2. In, You can use hit_index and assignment_index to differentiate between different HITs and assignments, and change the content of the task accordingly.
  3. Make sure to test your dialog task using MTurk’s sandbox mode before pushing it live, by using the --sandbox flag (enabled by default) when running
  4. [Optional] If you want to show a custom webpage (instead of the default one) for any of your MTurk agents, you can create an html folder within your task directory, and then create the <mturk_agent_id>_cover_page.html and <mturk_agent_id>_index.html files within the html directory. In those files, you can extend from core.html and override any code blocks that you want to change. (Please look at parlai/mturk/core/html/mturk_index.html as an example.) These agent-specific templates will automatically be shown to the Turkers in the next run.

Running a Task

If you have not used Mechanical Turk before, you will need an MTurk Requester Account and an AWS account (these are two separate accounts). Follow the steps below:

  • Sign up for an AWS account at
  • Sign up for an MTurk account at
  • Go to the developer tab ( and link your AWS account to your MTurk account (Step 2 on that screen)
  • MTurk also has a “Sandbox” which is a test version of the MTurk marketplace. You can use it to test publishing and completing tasks without paying any money. ParlAI supports the Sandbox. To use the Sandbox, you need to sign up for a Sandbox account. You will then also need to link your AWS account to your Sandbox account. In order to test faster, you will also want to create a Sandbox Worker account. You can then view tasks your publish from ParlAI and complete them yourself.
  • ParlAI will connect to your AWS account and set up some supporting resources including a Lambda function, an API Gateway and an RDS database. It will also use your AWS account to connect to the MTurk API. In order to do this, it will require credentials to access your AWS account. To set this up, you will need to create an IAM user with programmatic access and an AdministratorAccess policy. You can learn more about how to set up IAM users here. Once you have created the account, keep its access key and the secret key handy as you will need it next.

Then, to run an MTurk task, first ensure that the task directory is in parlai/mturk/tasks/. Then, run its file with proper flags:

python -nh <num_hits> -na <num_assignments> -r <reward> [--sandbox]/[--live]

E.g. to create 2 HITs for the QA Data Collection example with 1 assignment per HIT and $0.05 per assignment in sandbox mode, first go into the task directory and then run:

python -nh 2 -na 1 -r 0.05 --sandbox

Please make sure to test your task in MTurk sandbox mode first (--sandbox) before pushing it live (--live).

Reviewing Turker’s Work

After all HITs are completed, you will be provided a webpage link to review them.

If you don’t take any action in 4 weeks, all HITs will be auto-approved and Turkers will be paid.

* Turker icon credit: Amazon Mechanical Turk. Robot icon credit: Icons8.