Issue #28: Follow the woman challenging Big Tech
Suddenly it’s the end of the year, and I would briefly like to reflect on this little newsletter project I started at the end of May. “Jobs Meet Tech” is supposed to be a place where I can share the insights I gather around the future of work, technology, and artificial intelligence. As I embarked on a new position this year that is directly tied to these topics, I read many articles to make sense of hypes and trends and understand how digital transformation shapes our work lives.
I’ve written about robots in agriculture and new machines preparing pizzas and meals. The most clicked issue was on the downsides of hiring algorithms and how they oversee talented applicants. You can see from these examples alone how broad the topic of work and technology is.
I find progress fascinating, and I’m still optimistic that the future can be exciting and create better work opportunities — but it’s necessary to keep an eye on the downsides and caveats.
I hope I could provide you with a few insights that sparked your interest in the future of work and allowed you to learn something you didn’t know.
Thank you for reading this newsletter and bearing with me while I’m experimenting with topics and delivery. I’d be pleased to have you on this journey with me in 2022.
Now, let’s take a break!
Merry Christmas and a great start to the new year — I’ll be back on January 2nd.
Headlines you shouldn’t miss
WIRED Employees Are Learning to Make Automation Work for Them: The concept of “citizen developers” could become an integral part of many businesses. Modern low-code or no-code platforms allow workers with limited IT knowledge to program basic automation solutions. Experts believe that the digital acceleration in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic will lead to citizen developers becoming a vital part of many organizations helping to embrace automation.
FINANCIAL TIMES Workers demand gig economy companies explain their algorithms: Gig workers on platforms like Uber and Deliveroo complain about intransparent algorithmic decisions threatening their income source. Under European law, workers are entitled to learn if an algorithm made decisions and which data was used. Yet, many platforms fail to disclose the way their algorithms rate workers. While there has been a growing number of legal battles against platforms, intransparent automated decision-making is spreading and affecting workers in the gig economy and beyond.
ENTREPRENEUR European Gig Workers May Soon Be Classified as Employees: The European Commission proposes classifying gig workers as formal employees. Recent estimates indicate that out of the 28 million gig workers in Europe, 5.5 million might be falsely classified as self-employed. The legislators seek to improve working conditions for workers who don’t fulfill the self-employed criteria. The European Parliament and Council will discuss the proposal.
MIT NEWS Nonsense can make sense to machine-learning models: Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have found out that specific AI models tend to “overinterpretation,” particularly in the field of image recognition. The algorithms can categorize images with high confidence, even when they don’t make sense. This can be harmful in industries where image recognition is used for decision-making like medicine. The researchers believe that the poor data sets used to train machine-learning algorithms are to blame and not the models per se.
THE SUNDAY TIMES Fired by AI — The algorithm that judges whether staff are really working from home: Some companies have started using software to determine how productive workers are, especially when working from home. Tracking software can identify the activity in used work tools related to chats, emails, dashboards, and collaboration platforms and decide which workers should be fired. Data-based firings have occurred in particular in the tech sector.
STAT TRADE TIMES Over 50 per cent logistics workforce feel AI, automation spell threat to their jobs — DHL survey: DHL’s latest Trend Report called “Future of Work in Logistics” has found out that 9 out of 10 logistics workers agree that technology has improved their role in the last five years. Yet, 50% are concerned that automation threatens their jobs. Thomas Ogilvie, Chief Human Resources Officer at DHL, believes that one third of all activities could be automated, yet work remains.
HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW Digital Transformation in Africa Requires Homegrown Solutions: While the Sub-Saharan region has the lowest internet penetration rate, the gap is quickly closing, and African businesses are taking advantage of the digital transformation. To take advantage of that progress, digital solutions made in Africa are necessary. They should cater to the local conditions. SMS is the most convenient and accessible communication tool, mobile numbers have become crucial for identification, and most phone users rely on prepaid packages.
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Why you should follow Timnit Gebru
Ethiopian-American AI researcher Timnit Gebru made headlines when she was fired from her position as co-lead at Google’s Ethical AI team in December 2020. She believes that the company wanted to get rid of her and smear her reputation because she was working on an academic paper highlighting issues using language models in Google’s AI projects.
Gebru hasn’t backed down in the wake of her dismissal from Google. On the contrary. She has become one of the strong voices against many practices in Big Tech. In a recent Guardian piece, she heavily criticized the role of tech corporations as vehicles of misinformation and the power they hold in the world of philanthropy.
The researcher founded the Distributed AI Research Institute (DAIR) to continue her work, calling it “a space for independent, community-rooted AI research free from Big Tech’s pervasive influence.” At DAIR, she wants to ensure that AI becomes diverse and inclusive, allowing voices and thoughts from marginalized groups to be seen and heard.
In a Quartz interview, Gebru seems to be optimistic about the future of AI — despite the red flags she has spotted during her research. “AI is something human beings create and something that we can shape in a way that doesn’t destroy society,” she explains.
Follow Timnit Gebru on Twitter: @timnitGebru
Study of the week: Pew research shows negative experiences of ethnic and racial minorities in the gig economy
A recent Pew Research Center survey among US gig workers shows striking differences in the work experience between ethnic and racial groups.
According to the researchers, 16 percent of US adults have ever earned money on gig platforms, 9 percent have done so over the past year.
Minority groups are likelier to be engaged in the gig economy than white workers. Among the surveyed, 30 percent of the Hispanics, 20 percent of the Blacks, 19 percent of Asians, and 12 percent of the Whites have indicated that they have worked in the gig sector.
Non-white gig workers report more negative experiences like being treated rudely or being subjected to unwanted sexual advances on the job than White gig workers. While one third of the White workers reported that they had been treated rudely on the job, 41 percent of Non-Whites shared such experiences. 41 percent of the Non-Whites indicate that they have felt unsafe on the job, while only 28 percent of Whites have. And 24 percent of the Non-White workers experienced sexual advancements, while 13 percent of the White workers have been in such a situation.
Quote of the week: Slack’s CEO Stewart Butterfield believes that remote work disrupted the labor market
In a Washington Post interview, Stewart Butterfield, CEO of the online collaboration tool Slack, shares his view on the future of work. He believes it will be driven by flexibility and digtal technology:
The most important thing is what we call the digital headquarters. There obviously is some digital infrastructure that’s really critical to supporting productivity and collaboration. I think there are real opportunities.
The other thing that’s interesting and kind of unrelated to how we work is the shifting dynamics in the labor market. The balance has shifted in such a way that the market will determine how much time people expect to be in the office, not the employers.
People who require employees to be in the office on a 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday schedule are just not going to be able to hire or retain people, or certainly not hire or retain their pick.
What I’m currently reading: The Story of Work — A New History of Humankind
When did humans start to work — and what makes labor meaningful? In his ambitious book “The Story of Work - A New History of Humankind,” author Jan Lucassen takes his readers on a ride from the dawn of hunter-gatherer communities to the office work habits of today. It’s a diligent piece of work with a global perspective looking at early civilizations across all continents. Lucassen has carved out the elements of labor that have given people meaning and highlights the importance of unpaid domestic work and the human need to collaborate and create fairness through work. At the same time, he doesn’t leave out the painful battles humans have fought on the path to decent work. A fascinating read for those long winter nights.
Take a closer look: The Story of Work (2021), Yale University Press.
Ho-ho-ho! Alexa becomes Santa
Amazon’s voice assistant, Alexa, channels all the Christmas vibes during the holiday season and is becoming Santa Clause. Alexa users can interact with virtual Santa for a limited period and ask him to tell a story about his reindeers, play Christmas songs, or give updates on the North pole. Users can switch into the Christmas mode by saying, “Alexa, enable Hey Santa.”