LA Times Op-Ed: Your job is about to get “taskified”

Mary Gray published an Op-Ed from our crowdwork research in the Sunday’s Los Angeles Times’ print edition, published on January 10th, 2016 . It reflects on the challenges that workers face in a world of “taskified” labor—particularly the problem of getting paid when no one’s legally on the hook for sending you your last paycheck. Full text below: The global digital assembly line has arrived. Its workers labor at computer keyboards, performing the behind-the-scenes tasks that make the Internet appear intelligent and functional. They assign labels like “family” or “theme park” to photos, check that Web URLs work, verify addresses on Yelp, review social media posts flagged as “adult.” Corporations, from the smallest start-ups to the largest firms, can now “taskify” everything from scheduling meetings and debugging websites, to finding sales leads and managing fulltime employees’ HR files. Instead of hiring help, firms just post their needs to the Web. This [...]

Paradox of Automation’s Last Mile

My collaborator, Siddharth Suri, and I have spent nearly 2 years studying a nascent but rapidly expanding piece of the platform economy that we call “crowdwork.” Right now, crowdwork — millions of people around the world working in concert with programmers issuing tasks to an API — fuels automation of the internet. This work requires people to contribute responses, at a moment’s notice, and benefits most from a dispersed, diverse set of responses more than the steady input of one person responding to a single call full-time. We see a moving frontier, between what machines can and can’t solve, what we call the paradox of automation’s last mile. As machines progress, they solve problems that previously only humans could solve. But with each solution a new problem — or opportunity for machine learning — presents itself. Engineers, using crowdwork, put their heads down and dig into advancing the frontier of automation once again. The humans who used to [...]

Re-assembling the Assembly Line: Digital Labor Economies and Demands for an Ambient Workforce

On November 2, 2015 Mary Gray gave a talk at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society where she discusses her findings from a two-year collaborative study on crowdwork –“the process of taking tasks that would normally be delegated to an employee and distributing them to a large pool of online workers, the ‘crowd,’ in the form of an open call.” In this talk she addresses ideas about the cultural meaning, political implications, and ethical demands of [...]

Platformation: Greetings from the future of work!

On September 9, 2015, the Data & Society Research Institute hosted Platformation, a one-day summit that brought together a diverse group of stakeholders to discuss platform economies and the labor that fuels them. Participants included platform business leaders, researchers, labor organization representatives, policy experts, and those contributing labor to this growing sector. You can read the full summary report here. The event was co-convened by Dean Jansen, Data & Society Fellow and myself, with a great deal of encouragement and support from the SMC (thanks peeps!) Participants raised questions and discussed concerns, but the consensus was that collaboration at a larger scale is necessary to arrive at concrete solutions in all sectors. We broke the day into three sessions – the first grappled with accountability and trust and how these dynamics shift as platforms scale. To begin, the nature of work itself has changed, as automated workflows replace traditional modes [...]