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.