The Future of Labor in a Data-Centric Society

Technology is disrupting, destabilizing, and transforming many aspects of the labor force. Data & Society seeks to better understand emergent disruptions in the labor force as a result of data-centric technological development, with a special focus on structural inequalities.

With the support of the Open Society Foundations’ U.S. Programs Future of Work inquiry, we produced working papers in five areas, which were released in October 2014.

1. Understanding Intelligent Systems: Science fiction has long imagined a workforce reshaped by robots, but the increasingly common instantiation of intelligent systems in business is much more mundane. Beyond the utopian and dystopian hype of increased efficiencies and job displacement, how do we understand what disruptions intelligent systems will have on the workforce?

2. Technologically Mediated Artisanal Production: From 3D printing to maker culture, there’s a rise of technical practices that resist large industrial and corporate modes of production, similar to what is occurring in artisanal food and agriculture. While DIY practices are not new, the widespread availability and cheap cost of such tools has the potential to disrupt certain aspects of manufacturing. How do we better understand what is unfolding?

3. Fair Labor Practices in a Networked Age: Unionization emerged as a way of protecting labor rights when society shifted from an agricultural ecosystem to one shaped by manufacturing and industrial labor. New networked work complicates the organizing mechanisms that are inherent to unionization. How then do we protect laborers from abuse, poor work conditions, and discrimination?

4. Networked Employment Discrimination: As businesses begin implementing algorithms to sort through applicants and use third party services to assess the quality of candidates based on their networks, personality tests, and other scores, how do we minimize the potential discriminatory outcomes of such hiring processes?

5. Workplace Surveillance: Employers have long devised techniques and used new technologies to surveil employees in order to increase efficiency, decrease theft, and otherwise assert power and control over subordinates. New and cheaper networked technologies make surveillance easier to implement, but what are the ramifications of widespread workplace surveillance?

New project: Understanding Privacy as a Means of Economic Redistribution


Journal Articles, Papers and Reports


Testimony, Interviews, Presentations

Press Coverage

Mateescu Alexandra Mateescu
Rosenblat_2 Alex Rosenblat
Dean_2 Dean Jansen
Levy Karen Levy
Barocas Solon Barocas

For more information about this initiative, email

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