Ghost Work: How to Stop Silicon Valley from Building a New Global Underclass (Hardcover)
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.
SIDDHARTH SURI is a computational social scientist whose research interests lie at the intersection of computer science, behavioral economics and crowdsourcing. His early work analyzed the relationship between network topology and human behavior. Since then he has become one of the leaders in designing, building, and conducting “virtual lab” experiments using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Most recently, he has been studying the behavior and dynamics of the crowd workers themselves.
Fordham University Center's Book Prize, 2019 A 2019 Financial Times Critics Choice "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 J —