Ghost Work: How to Stop Silicon Valley from Building a New Global Underclass

Ghost Work: How to Stop Silicon Valley from Building a New Global Underclass

by Mary L. Gray, Siddharth Suri

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Overview

In the spirit of Nickel and Dimed, a necessary and revelatory expose of the invisible human workforce that powers the web—and that foreshadows the true future of work.

Hidden beneath the surface of the web, lost in our wrong-headed debates about AI, a new menace is looming. Anthropologist Mary L. Gray and computer scientist Siddharth Suri team up to unveil how services delivered by companies like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Uber can only function smoothly thanks to the judgment and experience of a vast, invisible human labor force. These people doing "ghost work" make the internet seem smart. They perform high-tech piecework: flagging X-rated content, proofreading, designing engine parts, and much more. An estimated 8 percent of Americans have worked at least once in this “ghost economy,” and that number is growing. They usually earn less than legal minimums for traditional work, they have no health benefits, and they can be fired at any time for any reason, or none.

There are no labor laws to govern this kind of work, and these latter-day assembly lines draw in—and all too often overwork and underpay—a surprisingly diverse range of workers: harried young mothers, professionals forced into early retirement, recent grads who can’t get a toehold on the traditional employment ladder, and minorities shut out of the jobs they want. Gray and Suri also show how ghost workers, employers, and society at large can ensure that this new kind of work creates opportunity—rather than misery—for those who do it.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781328566249
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 05/07/2019
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 485,604
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

MARY L. GRAY is a senior researcher at Microsoft Research New England and a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. She is also on the faculty at the School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering with affiliations in the Media School, Anthropology, and Gender Studies at Indiana University.

SIDDHARTH SURI is a senior researcher at Microsoft Research AI and was a founding member of Microsoft Research New York City. Prior to that, he was a member of the Human and Social Dynamics group at Yahoo! Research.
 

Table of Contents

Introduction: Ghosts In the Machine ix

Part I The Paradox of Automation's Last Mile

1 Humans in the Loop 1

2 From Piecework to Outsourcing: A Brief History of Automation's Last Mile 38

Part II Demanding Work

3 Algorithmic Cruelty and the Hidden Costs of Ghost Work 67

4 Working Hard for (More Than) the Money 94

Part III Talking Back to Robots

5 The Kindness of Strangers and the Power of Collaboration 121

6 The Double Bottom Line 140

Conclusion: The Task at Hand 166

Acknowledgments 195

Bibliography 202

Methods Appendix 214

Notes 219

Index 244

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