young mechanical turks


4 minutes

so it appears i completely failed at blogging every week but ah well. i’ve been super busy.

at the thoughtmenu in july we were lucky enough to have james bridle speak at the second event where he gave a brief talk introducing the idea of ‘Young Mecanical Turks’

due to our 10min talk rule he unfortunately wasn’t able to fully get to the bones of his conclusion, so the talk was left quite opened ended for interpretation and where he was going, i’m not going to layout his argument here as he is much better placed to make that elsewhere.

however I would like to take his talk to its logical end point, work backwards and at high level talk about how we got there. whilst he was talking, the topic brought to mind this short story by marshal brain that my friend razi linked to on Twitter recently.

please read it

:: thoughts ::

> firstly one must assume that the main character in the story is a participant in a software platform, and not an ’employee’. if he declines a task issued, Manna will provide him another one  – i can imagine there is a small number of vetos an employee is allowed (per day/per week) before they are suspended from the platform and told to go home.

> he is paid per task completed rather than an hourly rate. the software will algorithmically assign enough tasks across his day to earn a living wage.

  • open the cupboard door 30p
  • pull out bucket 20p
  • fill it with water 25p

> with each small and mundane task he performs before he can start, he has to accept a eula of millions of lines of leagalease covering the terms of employment for that specific task.

> by making the user accept a eula with every task, the employer can calculate the amout of insurance need to provided cover to the employee via a task sperciffic risk assessment. (Micro insurance of this kind became common practice after zipcar introduced Google’s self driving car, which requires you to buy insurance on a per journey basis – as self driving cars are MUCH safer than manual drivers their insurence premiums went through the roof)

> there is a long term gamification element in the platform that rewards users XP and allows them to choose and open up skill trees for training purposes (points and skills accumulated on one platform are not transferable to any another)

> bonus points are rewarded if employees complete ‘market tasks’ these are open jobs that are in the job pipe and need doing but have yet to become urgent enough that the software issues an instruction to go do it. the task would start at say Β£1/Β£2 and go down in price as time moves on as it becomes more urgent/pressing. employees can bid against each other on ‘market’ tasks: with the job going to the employee that bids the lowest before the time runs out. of course if a young mecanical turk enjoys doing the task the can choose the ‘queue it now’ option which ends the auction instantly at the lowest price possible (bottom end price set by the Manna algorithm) and it gets added to their queue.

> as employees work in the system/on the platform over time they level up and gain accsess to things like days off, dental care and eventually healthcare.

:: workers rights do not exisit in this world ::


as companies like task rabbit and amazons mechanical turk evolve and combine, the mechanics and legal framework that employment law provides will not be able to move quick enough to keep up with the rate of change. i think the semantic point i made about people being participants in a software platform and not ’employees’ is key here. which is why it is so important that we fight for universal human rights both in the physical sphere and the digital. our identities and personalities are already exploited by a network used by nearly a billion people.

let’s not let the exploitation of our immaterial labour become material.

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  1. ybodon avatar

    +Tagword, pastism

    look up piecework.

    “Oh brave new world that has such people in it”

    1. reallifelieselsewhere avatar

      Hi! thanks for your comment. gonna add the tag!

      been reading about piecework this evening. interesting that in a few cited examples it has both increased AND decreased live/working standards in various industries (but generally associated with sweatshop work) – what are your thoughts?

  2. Lucy Wills (@re_present) avatar

    Piece work has been a common practice for a very long time – both men and wowen, sewing crafting assembling to a moderate skill level in the home to supplement their incomes or when other seasonal trades are slack. If it becomes the standard form of employment, and of income, then precarity becomes the norm. This causes problems now, and in the future, and not just with our rights:

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