blog post

“Just how artificial is Artificial Intelligence?”

Mary L. Gray and Siddharth Suri have published an article for the Harvard Business Review asking, “just how artificial is Artificial Intelligence?” Whether it is Facebook’s trending topics; Amazon’s delivery of Prime orders via Alexa; or the many instant responses of bots we now receive in response to consumer activity or complaint, tasks advertised as AI-driven involve humans, working at computer screens, paid to respond to queries and requests sent to them through application programming interfaces (APIs) of crowdwork systems. The truth is, AI is as “fully-automated” as the Great and Powerful Oz was in that famous scene from the classic film, where Dorothy and friends realize that the great wizard is simply a man manically pulling levers from behind a curtain. For Gray and Suri, the mythos of “full-automation” is akin the Great and Powerful Oz, famously depicted as a man “manically pulling levers from behind a curtain” in the classic American film. This blend of [...]

Spike in Online Gig Work: Flash in the Pan or Future of Employment?

Siddharth Suri and Mary L. Gray Most conventional jobs involve hierarchy. A boss divvies up work to the office’s full-time employees awaiting direction and a green light. While still true for the majority of American workers, a growing number of people are picking up work online — accepting jobs with companies that assign, schedule, route, and pay for work through websites or mobile apps. This on-demand “gig work” is unraveling the typical job. Yet none of our current workplace statistics or labor laws reckon with the new employment reality turning APIs into shift managers. Our research team spent the past two years conducting one of the largest, most comprehensive studies of its kind to learn about the lives of on-demand gig workers. One of our greatest challenges was that we didn’t have a representative sample of American workers that could validate and enrich our findings. That is…until now. We shared our survey questions and preliminary findings with the Pew [...]

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 [...]

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 [...]