by Brian Shilhavy
Editor, Health Impact News
The Globalist Technocrats love to scare the common folk peasants with the hype of their “technology” and such grandiose Star-Trekish fantasies such as “transhumans” and sophisticated robots that are supposedly going to take over the world and replace humans.
It’s all fake.
I earned my living from technology in the late 1990s running my own consulting firm, and many of the tech moguls of today, such as Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, are my age, and so I have watched their technology grow and evolve over the past few years.
I clearly remember the days pre-1982, which was about the time the PC (personal computer) was developed, with the Internet and “World Wide Web” only becoming popular later in the mid to late 1990s.
It is easy to think that this kind of technology has been around for a long time, but the fact is that it is all still relatively new, and its growth has been very rapid in a short period of time.
Today’s younger generations probably cannot even imagine life without cell phones and the Internet, but I remember them quite well, and not only did we get along just fine without modern technology, but I would even go so far as to say life was better in many ways without it.
The new technology brought convenience and many other luxuries that enhanced life, but it also brought about many ways to enhance and proliferate evil as well, such as child pornography and sex trafficking.
So for myself, having watched all of this stuff develop in such a short period of time, and even supporting it and earning my living from it for several years in the 1990s, it is easy for me to see that all the grandiose claims being made for technology today, such as “transhumanism” and the idea that man and machine can be intertwined like a Star Trek Borg, or that advanced computers will replace humans, is only real in Hollywood where they can “beam” human beings across space by deconstructing their molecules and putting them back together again in a different location, or pressing a button on a “replicator” that instantly produces food and other goods.
It makes for interesting entertainment, but it has no basis in reality, and it never will. It is a false god.
Recently published reports have exposed just how frail their technology is, where these multi-billion dollar corporations like Microsoft, Amazon.com, and Google actually employ millions of low-pay human laborers referred to as “ghost workers” just to keep their software running properly.
The Jacobin Magazine just published an article titled The Ghost Workers in the Machine by Miriam Shestack.
Companies devalue them, and consumers rarely know they exist. But the apps and companies that millions of us depend on, like Uber and Amazon, couldn’t function without the invisible, low-wage labor of “ghost workers.”
Imagine a typical Uber ride. A driver logs into the app and waits for riders to appear in their queue. A nearby rider opens the app and sees the driver’s name and photo appear as the car approaches. Between driver and rider, however, another worker intervenes who remains invisible to both.
At random intervals, drivers are required to take a picture of themselves in the app so a facial recognition software can determine whether the image matches the one associated with their account. About once in every 100 pickups, a freshly shaved beard or new pair of sunglasses confounds the software. These pairs of selfies get routed to human workers, who have to determine that the two pictures are of the same person.
In a matter of seconds — no longer than it takes for a rider to find their driver and get in the car — the images are sent to the Indian tech hub of Bangalore, where a worker sitting at her kitchen table quickly evaluates them for a few cents in wages. When driver and rider meet, they have no idea that the ride was only allowed to go forward thanks to the real-time work of a third person across the world.
Tech giants like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Uber can only function smoothly thanks to the efforts of these workers, who labor for exceptionally low wages and little security.
These workers are the subject of Ghost Work: How to Stop Silicon Valley from Building a New Global Underclass. Authors Mary L. Gray and Siddharth Suri, respectively an anthropologist and a computer scientist, paint a vivid and often devastating picture of the vast global workforce propping up the tech industry behind the scenes.
They are called ghost workers because companies devalue and fail to acknowledge their role, while consumers rarely know they exist at all.
The ghost workers whom Gray and Suri profile live in India and the United States, the countries with the biggest on-demand labor pools. They have various (and often quite high) levels of education and seek out on-demand work for different reasons.
Some are full-time caretakers who need income on a schedule that will accommodate their obligations at home. Some are women who are expected not to seek work outside their homes. Some are people with disabilities who do not expect to find accommodation in conventional office work.
More than anything, however, participation in on-demand labor says less about its supposed benefits than the unavailability of decent, high-paying alternatives. (Full article.)
Camille Baker, writing for The Reboot, also wrote a review on the “Ghost Work” book earlier this year.
Standing on a street corner in Chicago, a young woman named Emily uses the Uber app to request a ride. A phone mounted on a nearby driver’s dashboard pings. The driver, whose name is Sam, accepts Emily’s request and begins navigating toward her location. Meanwhile, a third person who is located more than eight thousand miles away becomes secretly involved in their exchange.
Ayesha, a woman in Hyderabad, South India, is tasked with validating Sam’s identity. She has to confirm that the selfie Sam has submitted to Uber as part of the company’s Real-Time ID Check process matches his photo on file.
Sam had shaved off the beard that appears in his file photo, and the mismatch automatically prompts human intervention. A timer for the task counts down on Ayesha’s computer interface as she compares the photos. Just before Sam’s car pulls up to where Emily is waiting, Ayesha validates Sam’s photo, authorizing his account. Emily gets in the car.
According to anthropologist Mary L. Gray and computer scientist Siddharth Suri, the authors of Ghost Work: How to Stop Silicon Valley From Building a New Global Underclass, this sort of invisible real-time interaction occurs about once in the course of 100 of Uber’s pickups in the US, or approximately 13,000 times a day. (An Uber spokesperson noted that the authors’ sequence above is inaccurate; a driver would not have been allowed to accept any trips before their ID had been verified.)
“Ghost workers” like Ayesha, whether carrying out this particular task or something entirely different, are laborers in an almost completely hidden economy that supports the operations of some of the world’s largest corporations and services, where human input is required to fulfill tasks for “rewards” of as little as one cent.
They moderate comments and review flagged photos and videos on social media, caption clips, transcribe doctor’s notes, train search engines to produce more relevant results, tag images to teach algorithms to recognize their contents, and do much else besides.
The demand for such tasks is relentless. “New companies crop up every day with business models that depend on workers around the world who respond to open calls routed through software to do this behind-the-scenes work,” Gray and Suri write.
An economic class of ghost workers began to cohere in the early 2000s, after Amazon created a platform called Amazon Mechanical Turk (aka MTurk) through which workers could perform much-needed on-demand services for the company, such as correcting titles and descriptions in its enormous database of books, embedding listings with keywords, and selecting the right cover images.
Just as Amazon’s consumer offerings expanded beyond book sales to nearly every shippable good, MTurk also grew enormously. Today, Amazon and many outside companies use the platform to enlist a huge pool of laborers to complete necessary tasks at all hours. Google and Microsoft — whose research arm employs Gray and Suri — have also developed their own versions of MTurk, adding to the number of interfaces where ghost workers complete on-demand tasks.
Ghost workers can also be contracted by third-party vendors. The lack of visibility makes it hard to quantify the number of people who are engaged in this kind of labor; a Pew Research Center report estimates that in 2015 there were about 20 million people doing hidden on-demand work in the US alone.
Gray and Suri suggest that this portends the dismantling of full-time jobs and formerly office-based work into projects that are swiftly devalued. If this trend continues at a steady rate, they say that ghost work could account for roughly 60 percent of global employment by 2055.
“It’s not a niche job,” Gray told me. “This is literally the reorganization of employment.”
This is bad news because ghost work is monotonous at best, and disturbing, degrading, and destructive at worst. Take the field of content moderation, for example.
The Cleaners, a documentary by the German filmmakers Moritz Riesewieck and Hans Block, explores the experiences of ghost workers in the Philippines who moderate flagged photos and videos on social media accounts. They describe the traumatizing effect of repeated exposure to gore, acts of terror, and child pornography.
One content moderator worker in Manila says that he vets 25,000 images daily, and has been doing this work for six years. Another recalls seeing hundreds of videos of beheadings. (Read the Full Article.)
Charles Hugh Smith from the “of two minds” blog wrote about these false gods in technology this week, pointing out how most of the hype surrounding technology is almost always referenced as what it is about to do in the future, and that their limitations are well-known to their creators, who themselves often don’t even use the products they develop.
The vision of software eating the world is part and parcel of the compelling fantasy that humans will soon be free from the drudgery of work and scarcity and bask in near-infinite abundance due to techno-magic. Those most taken by this vision are never the ones trying to keep the software and robotics from failing, because those laboring to keep the whole mess from collapsing know the limits are far more real than the magical-thinking ehthusiasts understand.
The list of problems that have been “close to being solved” year after year is rather lengthy. Automated oversight of social media content by the loving care of AI (artificial intelligence)? Well, yes, sure–but then what are those tens of thousands of humans scanning millions of posts and images doing for Facebook et al? Getting paid low wages for a hellish job for no reason? No, the AI (whatever that catch-phrase actually means) can’t solve the really difficult problems, despite claims to the contrary.
Self-driving cars are here! Well, almost, kind of, with a few exceptions… Other than failing in novel situations where bad weather or other common occurrences manifest, it works great. Well, sort of, but we’re close, very close… and so as long as the Internet never goes down, and the sensors never fail, and the creek doesn’t rise–it works great.
The vast infrastructure required to make all this function is rarely discussed. It’s not just a matter of the onboard sensors and equipment never failing; the Internet, GPS, electrical grid, etc., all have to function perfectly for all the software to work. This is known as a dependency chain and software is at the very end of a long and intrinsically fragile chain.
As for all those automated systems we have to navigate–do any of them work so well that those profiting from them actually use them? Of course not. Do you think the mega-millionaires raking in the profits from stripping out costs and offshoring ghost-work actually use the wretched software systems their monopolies and cartels impose on the rest of us? Of course not; they have their PA, nanny, driver, gig workers, etc. take care of whatever they need done in real time in the real world. It’s the rest of us to are forced to put up with their dysfunctional, frustratingly inept software “paradise.”
So when the grid goes down for lack of real-world energy, let’s all cheer how software is going to deliver us endless abundance. But we’ll have to do all the cheerleading in person because the Web went down, too. (Read the full article.)
The technocrats are false gods. Do not fear them, and do not become too reliant on their products.
If there is a virus that is capable of destroying humanity, I guarantee you that it will not be a “corona virus.” It will probably be a “computer virus” that crashes the world’s fragile, inferior technological infrastructure, and that day may be coming sooner than most are expecting.
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