The human cumulusArtificial intelligence will create new kinds of work

  • To take one example, more and more people are supplying digital services online via what is sometimes dubbed the “human cloud”.
  • But consumers and companies will also expect ever-smarter AI services: digital assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana will have to answer more complex questions.
  • Accordingly, Ms Gray and Siddharth Suri, her collaborator at Microsoft Research, see services such as UpWork and Mechanical Turk as early signs of things to come.
  • A travel agency, for instance, might use AI to deal with routine tasks (such as booking a flight), but direct the more complicated ones (a request to create a customised city tour, say) to humans.
  • Mark Graham of the University of Oxford concludes that platforms for online work do indeed offer new sources of income for many, particularly in poor countries, but that these services also drive down wages.

WHEN the first printed books with illustrations started to appear in the 1470s in the German city of Augsburg, wood engravers rose up in protest. Worried about their jobs, they literally stopped the presses. In fact, their skills turned out to be in higher demand than before: somebody had to illustrate the growing number of books.

WHEN the first printed books with illustrations started to appear in the 1470s in the German city of Augsburg, wood engravers rose up in protest. Worried about their jobs, they literally stopped the presses. In fact, their skills turned out to be in higher demand than before: somebody had to illustrate the growing number of books.

Fears about the impact of technology on jobs have resurfaced periodically ever since. The latest bout of anxiety concerns the arrival of artificial intelligence (AI). Once again, however, technology is creating demand for work. To take one example, more and more people are supplying digital services online via what is sometimes dubbed the “human cloud”. Counter-intuitively, many are doing so in response to AI.

According to the World Bank, more than 5m people already offer to work remotely on online marketplaces such as Freelancer.com and UpWork. Jobs range from designing websites to writing legal briefs, and typically bring in at least a few dollars an hour. In 2016 such firms earned about $6bn in revenue, according to Staffing Industry Analysts, a market researcher. Those who prefer work in smaller bites can use “micro-work” sites such as Mechanical Turk, a service operated by Amazon. About 500,000 “Turkers” perform tasks such as transcribing bits of audio, often earning no more than a few cents for each “human-intelligence task”.

Many big tech companies employ, mostly through outsourcing firms, thousands of people who…

The human cumulusArtificial intelligence will create new kinds of work