"Revealing...this compassionate and informative study is a must-read for anyone interested in the future of work." —Publishers Weekly “Ghost Work adeptly raises the alarm about an emerging type of dehumanizing work, where invisible workers serve as cogs in the great machine of our latest information technology, entirely beholden to software and artificial intelligence.”—Martin Ford , bestselling author of Rise of the Robots and Architects of Intelligence “An uncompromising, data-based, yet heartfelt exploration of how digital technologies have allowed corporations to write human beings even further out of the value equation, as well as how we can restore dignity and prosperity to the lives of the invisible workforce. The first step in building solidarity is simply knowing there are people out there.” —Douglas Rushkoff , author of Team Human and Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus. "Ghost Work is a stunning book, just the wake-up call we need to shatter the credulous belief that artificial intelligence is ‘replacing' workers. As Gray and Suri masterfully demonstrate, work isn’t disappearing in the age of AI; it is being hidden. Scrupulously researched and deeply humane, Ghost Work is at once a sobering reminder of what could happen if we allow algorithmic cruelty and exploitative labor practices to flourish and an inspiring call to defend the dignity and value of human labor." –Virginia Eubanks , author of Automating Inequality "The Wachowskis got it wrong. Humans aren't batteries for The Matrix, we are computer chips. In this fascinating book, Mary Gray and Siddharth Suri show us just how integral human online task workers are to the development of AI and the seamless operation of all the great internet services. Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand our technology-infused future." —Tim O'Reilly, CEO, O'Reilly Media “A remarkable book. As one of the millions of hidden workers of the world, I know this book gets to the heart of what it means to be a ghost worker. It reveals the true reality of work life for the people earning a living as digital pieceworkers. The authors also propose several technical and social fixes to collaboratively build a better future for everyone working in the shadows.” —Rochelle LaPlante , digital labor rights activist “Ghost Work is groundbreaking, a painstaking portrait of an invisible world. We can only choose a different future of work if we truly see today’s workers." —Felicia Wong , President and CEO, Roosevelt Institute, Author, The Hidden Rules of Race: Barriers to an Inclusive Economy "If you think you know what's going on with digital labor, think again. This pathbreaking book is sure to re-set the debate about technology and the future of work. Based on extensive ethnography and survey research, Ghost Work is a must-read for anyone who cares about a humane future for those of us who need to work for a living. A game-changer." —Juliet B. Schor , Professor of Sociology, Boston College “Mary Gray and Siddharth Suri show us the human face to ‘ghost work’the invisible and often alienating piece work that makes today's digital economy run. The people working today for Mechanical Turk and similar platforms are the canaries in the coal mine, revealing how more and more of us will be working in the years to come." —Henry Jenkins , Provost's Professor of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Art, and Education, University of Southern California "Ghost Work's mosaic of personal narratives is a welcome bulwark against oversimplification of a phenomenon that is, by design, easy to overlook. The debate around a complex and troubling labor market comes to life through the stories of its most vulnerable participants.” — Jonathan Zittrain , George Bemis Professor of International Law at Harvard Law School, Professor of Computer Science at the Harvard School of Engineering & Applied Sciences, and Faculty Director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society “Peering into a future that is now, Ghost Work is a must-read exposé of the new world of work on the global, digital assembly line—hidden, creative, human labor upon which we are all dependent and without which there would be no effective artificial intelligence.” —Alisse Waterston , Presidential Scholar and Professor, John Jay College of the City University of New York, and past-President, American Anthropological Association “Ghost Work portrays a world in which invisible armies of online workers are hired, tasked, managed, paid, and often fired by machines. This setting would make for gripping dystopian science fiction — were it not describing the present! This book convinces me that greater transparency and regulatory oversight will be crucial for ensuring that the future of work 'works' well for platform workers, not just for the platforms that oversee them.” —David Autor , Ford Professor of Economics, MIT “AI’s dirty secret is just how much human labor lurks inside apparently automated systems. The emergence of this informal work is one of the most significant transformations in labor in decades. Yet, as Mary Gray and Siddharth Suri show in this important book, it is firmly rooted in a century-long struggle for labor protections. Ghost Work offers not just a detailed diagnosis of current conditions but also a path towards a better future.” —Paul Dourish , Chancellor's Professor, Informatics Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences, University of California, Irvine “Ghost Work should be read by every CEO whose company depends on online, on-demand workers and by every citizen concerned about the influence of artificial intelligence on the nature of work. It elegantly places this technology in historical context and, crucially, gets the technology right. Moreover, Gray and Suri’s creative suggestions for redesigning socio-technical systems would vastly improve the well-being of the humans who sustain them.” —Barbara J. Grosz , Higgins Professor of Natural Sciences in the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University “Ghost Work brings out of the shadows many of the “last-mile” human activities that are typically left out of the story about technology’s impact on work. The authors clearly lay out the critical policy and business challenges ahead, as well as some creative solutions, as this form of work continues to grow.” —James Manyika, Senior Partner at McKinsey & Company and Chairperson and Director of the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), MGI’s business and economics research arm “This book reminds us that it's not just the 'future of work' but the present of work for millions of workers. It’s essential that we see and understand the nature of ghost work.” —Natalie Foster , Co-chair and co-founder, Economic Security Project and Senior Fellow at The Aspen Institute Future of Work Initiative “In this important and original book, Gray and Suri give us a fascinating peek under the hood of the gig economy that is rigorous yet very readable.”—Arun Sundararajan , professor of business, New York University, author of The Sharing Economy “Ghost Work is an instant classic. It is resonant of the great ethnographies that illuminated the manufacturing shop floor. But industries of the past relied on a lively community of people who worked, played, and lived together. The workers on the new digital assembly line are known neither to each other or to us. Their invisibility makes them ghosts. Gray and Suri enable us to see them, empathize with them, and recognize our own complicity in their situation. By emphasizing how even AI depends on human labor and by offering a rich account of the lives who provide that labor, the authors offer hope through a well-grounded tool kit of strategies for amelioration and action.” —Margaret Levi , professor of Political Science, Stanford University “Ghost Work is a haunting look at the stories of the people who live far from Silicon Valley whose work makes the Internet possible. With this extraordinary research, Gray and Suri combine rich interview data with the scope and scale of big data. They paint a sweeping, yet fine-grained picture of our technological moment, while helping us to imagine a different and more just future.” —Gina Neff , University of Oxford, author of Venture Labor
An exploration of the hidden human labor force that works with artificial intelligence to power many popular websites and apps.
As Microsoft Research senior analysts Gray and Suri note, some 20 million individuals worldwide make up an "on-demand gig economy," working as freelancers to handle judgment-call tasks that computers do not do—from moderating content and editing product reviews to developing web pages—and executing such high-tech piece work (for apps like Uber and websites like Facebook) in isolation, amid great uncertainty, without feedback or benefits, and under no clear labor laws. Drawing on a pioneering five-year study of workers in the United States and India, the authors provide a revealing, overly detailed view of this rapidly growing world of "ghost work," in which "faceless" labor platforms (at the behest of well-known firms) hire workers represented by numbers rather than names. The platforms organize, route, and schedule projects to individuals working from home or elsewhere. This prospect—not the takeover of work by robots—represents the "inevitable" future of jobs, argue the authors. The book includes portraits of many workers such as Karen, a 37-year-old stay-at-home mom who does captions for an on-demand platform called Amara, earning $15 per hour; and Zaffar, 26, an IT graduate who handles tasks for LeadGenius, another platform, from his home in India. Most are college graduates under age 40, and many have failed to find—or do not want—9-to-5 jobs. Some are disabled, retired, or caring for children or elderly relatives; all take on first-come, first-served assignments at their convenience. Worker experiences are mixed: Some hustle to land steady work, while others find some of the hundreds of platforms (Amazon's MTurk, Microsoft's UHRS, LeadGenius, and Amara are examined in detail) hard to understand. Nearly a third report being unpaid for work completed. The authors urge many reforms, including a safety net for future workers and "company-issued, shared workspace."
A sobering book for policymakers and anyone considering on-demand gigs.