Oct 8, 2014

What is the future of work?

(CC BY 2.0-licensed photo by David Blaine.)

Data & Society’s Future of Labor project has rolled out a stack of working papers that explore issues raised by the impact of technology on work. We’re pleased to share them!

Authors Alex Rosenblat, Tamara Kneese, and danah boyd did the heavy lifting. They had help from D&S fellows Tim Hwang and Karen Levy. Production of these documents was supported by the Open Society Foundations’ U.S. Programs Future of Work inquiry.

Papers are intended as primers to provide framing and foundation for people – from researchers to policymakers to activists – who are trying to get a handle on future of work issues, as well as for Data & Society’s own continued research on the ways data-centric technology is affecting work.

  • Understanding Intelligent Systems unpacks the science fiction stories of robots to look at the various ways in which intelligent systems are being integrated into the workforce in both protective and problematic ways. Much of what’s at stake in this domain stems from people’s conflicting values regarding robots, drones, and other intelligent systems.
  • Technologically Mediated Artisanal Production considers the disruptions introduced by 3D printing and “maker culture,” as the very act of physical production begins to shift from large-scale manufacturing to localized creation. The implications for the workforce are profound, but there are other huge potential shifts here, ranging from positive possibilities like democratizing design to more disconcerting concerns like increased environmental costs.
  • Networked Employment Discrimination examines the automation of hiring and the implications this has on those seeking jobs. The issues addressed here range from the ways in which algorithms automatically exclude applicants based on keywords to the ways in which people are dismissed for not having the right networks.
  • Workplace Surveillance traces the history of efforts to using tracking technologies to increase efficiency and measure productivity while decreasing risks for employers. As new technologies come into the workplace to enable new forms of surveillance, a whole host of ethical and economic questions emerge.
  • Understanding Fair Labor Practices in a Networked Age dives into the question of what collective bargaining and labor protections look like when work is no longer cleanly delineated, bounded, or structured within an organization, such as those engaged in peer economy work. Far from being an easy issue, we seek to show the complexity of trying to get at fair labor in today’s economy.

Please share widely. We hope these working documents work, i.e. not just for our own research but for others. Also, Data & Society is just getting started on the future of work, and we welcome feedback and pointers to other people, papers, and projects we can learn from: