The Platform as Factory: Crowdwork and the Hidden Labour behind Artificial Intelligence
Special Issue of Capital & Class, “Machines & Measure”, edited by Phoebe V. Moore, Kendra Briken, Frank Engster, Forthcoming
16 Pages Posted: 26 Nov 2019
Date Written: October 13, 2019
This paper analyses crowdwork platforms where various forms of digital labour are outsourced to digital workers across the globe. The labour of these workers is, amongst other things, a crucial component in the production, development and support of artificial intelligence. Crowdwork platforms are an extreme example of new forms of automated measurement, management and control of labour allowing, in turn, for the creation of hyper-flexible and highly scalable workforces. Particularly on so-called micro-task platforms work is characterised by decomposition, standardisation, automated management and surveillance, as well as algorithmically organised cooperation between a great number of workers. Analysing these platforms as a paradigmatic example of an emerging digital Taylorism, the paper goes on to argue that this allows the platforms to assemble a deeply heterogeneous set of workers while bypassing the need to spatially and subjectively homogenise them. These platforms create a global on-demand workforce, working in their private homes or internet cafes. As a result, crowdwork taps into labour pools hitherto almost inaccessible to wage labour. The second part of the paper investigates this tendency by looking at two sets of workers: women shouldering care responsibilities who now can work on crowdwork platforms while performing domestic labour as well as digital workers in the Global South. While there are clear specifics of digital crowdwork, it is also an expression of broader transformations within the world of work, concerning, for example, new forms of algorithmic management just as the return of very old forms of exploitation such as the piece wage.
Keywords: Crowdwork, Digital Labour, Digital Taylorism, Gig Economy, Platform Labour
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