The Future of Work

The Pacific Standard magazine has been running a series where academics, business leaders, technologists and labor leaders have contributed to the discussion on the most consequential changes in labor and the future of work. We invite you to read the contributions from members of our SMC family.

“Caring for the Crowdworker going at it alone”   –>Mary L. Gray, one of our senior researchers at the SMC. She is writing a book, with computer scientist Siddharth Suri, on platform economies, digital labor, and the future of work.

In many ways, the assumption that workers no longer need a supportive or collaborative work environment and can act as self-directed actors is a fair one. Plenty of workers figure out how to find a good gig, develop routines for getting work done quickly, even find water-cooler chatter on worker-centered forums. A significant percentage of crowdworkers string together 30 to 50 hours of work, and rely on networks of peer support to maintain this level of productivity. Workers share information about how to sign up for platforms, what jobs to consider, employers to avoid, even how to do certain tasks when the task instructions leave out key details. Indeed, my time with workers shows that the API silently shifts the burden of finding, training, and retaining talent to workers’ shoulders.

“Working for the machine” –> Michael Bernstein, assistant professor of computer science at Stanford University, where he co-directs the Human-Computer Interaction group and is a Robert N. Noyce Family Faculty Scholar. His research focuses on the design of crowdsourcing and social computing systems.

The computer no longer is just our tool for doing work: it is becoming an instrument that gives us work. Online, networked societies have embarked on a massive shift to take work online, and that means an algorithm may be your next boss, or at least be your task matchmaker. Ask an Uber driver, who is told where to be and when by software. Or ask workers on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk marketplace, who execute information tasks for hours a day at piecework rates.

For Uber Drivers, Data is the Boss –> Alex Rosenblat, researcher and technical writer at Data & Society, a New York organization focused on social, cultural, and ethical issues arising from data-centric technological development.

From Uber’s perspective, drivers are a stopgap solution until autonomous vehicles can replace them. The more permanent Uber employees—the data scientists—algorithmically scrutinize the drivers’ movements to determine where they should be positioned to meet passenger demand. At Uber, drivers are also data points on a screen. The data they generate as they do their work feeds Uber’s surge pricing algorithm, can help determine how long it should take a driver to complete a trip, or could be used to move into markets beyond passenger delivery.

What isn’t counted, counts –> Karen Levy, postdoctoral fellow at New York University School of Law and the Data and Society Research Institute.

Consider long-haul truckers. Most are paid according to the number of miles they drive, which are increasingly tracked by their employers via GPS-enabled “fleet management systems.” What these systems don’t track (and what drivers aren’t paid for) is the time they spend on other essentials—like safety inspections, paperwork, and waiting for hours while their freight is loaded or unloaded at crowded terminals. But because their work is measured by miles driven instead of by some other metric (say, by number of hours worked), truckers have incentives to cut corners—hurrying their safety checks, speeding, ignoring the legally mandated rest breaks meant to keep the highways safe.

Congress and 20 Organizations Urge FCC to End Discriminatory Blocking of Online LGBT Resources

Members of Congress and 20 LGBT and ally organizations, led by Congressman Mike Honda, Founder and Chair of the Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus, are calling on the FCC to stop the indiscrimate blocking of online LGBT Resources. And, guess what? They used a report that Jessie Daniels and I wrote this summer to make the case and urge others to join the cause. Ok. I know that this is a small step forward but, today, I’m feeling really good about some tangible action on this front. Hey, industry leaders? Please take up the charge to make a difference?

Facebook “Courage” Page versus the Knights Templar’s Cartel

Organized as self-defense forces, some residents of the Mexican state of Michoácan have been attempting to regain control of their towns from powerful organized criminals. Although these Mexican militias have received a fair amount of media coverage, its fascinating social media presence has not been examined. Saiph Savage, a grad student at UNAM/UCSB, and I have started to collect some data, and wanted to share some initial observations of  one of the militias’ online spaces: Valor por Michoacán, a Facebook page with more than 130,000 followers devoted to documenting the activities of the self-defense militia groups in their fight against the Knights Templar Cartel. We contrast this page with a similar one from a different state: Valor por Tamaulipas,  which has enabled residents of that state cope with the Drug War related violence.

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Can crowds fill the void left by defunct newspapers? Reflections on our experiments with locative crowdsourcing

Write up by Andrés Monroy-Hernández and Elena Agapie, building on the work of J. Nathan Matias

Motivated by the disappearance of local newspapers, this past summer, we started to explore new ways of supporting community news production through collaborative writing tools. The first incarnation of this is NewsPad, a system for neighborhood communities to collaboratively to report on local events such as festivals and town hall meetings.

One of the first challenges we encountered when testing NewsPad in the wild, was the difficulty of bootstrapping these collective action efforts to produce even lightweight articles in the form of lists, also referred to as listicles.

We decided to explore this challenge using on-demand, location-based labor through TaskRabbit. We were able to produce articles about the events in under an hour, and for less than $100. Here we we share some of initial reflections after running a few experiments.

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The 3 things you can learn about your neighborhood using Whooly

Along with my colleagues Shelly Farnham, and Michal Lahav—and our interns Yuheng HuEmma Spiro, and Nate Matias—we have been exploring ways of discovering and fostering latent neighborhood information to help people understand what’s happening in their local communities.

As part of this research, we have created Whooly an experimental mobile website that discovers and highlights neighborhood-specific information on Twitter in real-time. The system is focused, for now, on various neighborhoods of the Seattle metro area (King County to be specific). Whooly automatically discovers, extracts and summarizes hyperlocal Twitter content from these communities based on mentions of local neighborhoods and relevant keywords from tweets and profiles. One can think of Whooly as a neighborhood Twitter client.

Screenshot of Whooly

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How is the Brazilian Uprising Using Twitter?

By Andrés Monroy-Hernández and Emma Spiro

More than a million Brazilians have joined protests in over 100 cities throughout Brazil in the past few weeks. Since their early beginning as a “Revolta do Busão” (Bus rebellion) to reduce bus fares, the protests now include a much larger set of issues faced by Brazilian society. Protesters are angry about corruption and inequality. They’re also frustrated about the cost of hosting the upcoming World Cup and Olympic Games in light of economic disparity and lack of high quality basic services. Yesterday, as Brazil defeated Spain to win the Confederations Cup final, police clashed with protesters near Maracana stadium for the second time in two weeks.

English translation of “vem pra rua” video, via Global Voices.

People turned to social media to share what they saw on the streets and invite others to join in the protests. For example, some of our most active Brazilian users of So.cl have been posting daily collages with images, links, and descriptions of the protests. According to a well-known polling company, a surprising 72% of Brazilians online supported the demonstrations, and 10% claimed to have joined the protests on the streets. For a while, leftist President Rouseff maintained a high approval rate of 55%, down from 63% the year before and still one of the highest for any leader in the world. By June 29th, however, only only 30% of Brazilians considered her administration “great” or “good.”

One of the collages on So.cl narrating the Brazilian protests

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