Imagine you are looking for a job and you read this ad: “Be your own boss. No more 9 to 5. Work as much or as little as you like. Earn as much as you like.” Would you be tempted to apply? If you did, you’d probably be entering what’s called the “gig” economy. A gig job is one where algorithms break a task into its smallest components for greatest efficiency. Engineers match those components to a consumer’s needs and, voila, they have a job description. If I said Uber or Lyft, you’d know what I mean.
For a gig company, the financial benefits of algorithms are huge. Workers are defined as “self-employed” so there are no health benefits or OSHA standards to worry about.
The worker, on the other hand loses much. Gone are retirement plans, health care insurance, safe working conditions, and a living wage. Essentially, little human component exists. As Susan Fowler writes in her article, “What Have We Done?” engineers seem to delight in creating the “sweet spot” of a job description. That is the place where hourly wages aren’t low enough to turn workers away but aren’t high enough to give them a decent life. (Vanity Fair, September 2018, pg. 146.)
Over time, designers have become so good at their task, they’ve begun to eliminate management, as well. Soon, their mathematics will completely dehumanize the workplace. No need to worry about robots of the future. We’ve already reached the endgame. People just don’t realize it. If they did, they’d spill into the streets, demanding the right to organize unions.
The trend is the reverse, of course. Unions are dying, and worker benefits are dying with them: decent salaries, safe work environments, rest periods, vacations, health insurance, and retirement benefits. Gone. All gone with the wind.
The workers have drunk the cool aid, you see. They’re not workers, anymore. They’re entrepreneurs.
(Originally published 9/15/18)