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Ghost Work

How to Stop Silicon Valley from Building a New Global Underclass
Narrated by: Will Damron
Length: 8 hrs and 7 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (19 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Hidden beneath the surface of the internet, a new, stark reality is looming - one that cuts to the very heart of our endless debates about the impact of AI. 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, on-demand piecework: flagging X rated content, proofreading, transcribing audio, confirming identities, captioning video, and much more. An estimated 8 percent of Americans have worked at least once in this "ghost economy", and that number is growing.

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 workers, employers, and society at large can ensure that this new kind of work creates opportunity - rather than misery - for those who do it.

©2019 Mary L. Gray and Siddharth Suri (P)2019 HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books

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Interesting research, disappointing analysis

If you are expecting a deep economical and political analysis of the gig economy or "ghost work", you will be disappointed.

The book does provides an interesting field research focusing on workers on platforms that focus on piece work requested through APIs, like Amazon's Mechanical Turk, which is a less visible workforce than Uber drivers, and that alone is the value of the book, but that's kind of it.

There is no in depth economical analysis, no political considerations besides a very bland mainstream neoliberal veneer, and an approach that I would classify us naive.

They point to some of the platform issues, like work isolation, lack of visibility of the whole job, no incentives to work in groups or the off loading of transaction costs to workers as "bugs in the system", "algorithmic cruelty" inflicted by accident by lack of better planning, and what they are: features of the system. Bezos and company don't want workers to feel that they are part of a group, to organize, to be paid good wages, to have a decent "work life balance". They want them atomized, alienated from work, paying bottom dollar and demanding them to show up for their software slave drivers. This is the real reason for these systems to exist.

The last chapter is dedicated to suggestions on how we can improve these workers lives, and I do believe they mean well, but they are just band-aids for an amputated arm. All criticism to the core of the system are superficial and bland, they just assume that this is the future of work and we might as well adapt, and provide a few nice ideas to make the bondage a little bit less bad.

I was extremely disappointed, I remember getting a reference to this book from a podcast, I don't remember which, but it's probably from a tame centrist one like Erza Klein's. If you lean to the left at least a little, you will likely come out of this reading fuming like me. Well meaning people giving improvement tips for the next startup to exploit workers.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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I learned so much!

Although I work for Amara, one of the organizations cited in this study (not as a ghost worker), I knew very little about ghost workers universally. The telling of the individual stories opened my eyes to this world. Although more of an academically directed book in my mind, I remained interested from beginning to end. Also Will Damron is a favorite narrator of mine and he did a great job once again.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful