Thursday, August 23, 2012

Human workers, Managed by an Algorithm

I'm fascinated by recent developments in a growing trend known as "crowdsourciing". Many companies have decided to outsource certain aspects of their businesses to various groups of people. Many are offering some sort of incentive to those who provide them a valuable service.

For example: have you ever done a google search in an effort to solve a technical problem and found the solution to your problem in a discussion forum? Those discussion forums are popping up all over the web. Companies are actually replacing a portion of their tech support workforce with message boards that connect customers with each other in an attempt to get customers the answers they need from other customers who have likely experienced the same problem. In many cases, those good Samaritans who help others receive no compensation, but they assist others out of the kindness of their hearts. In some cases, one can receive discounts or increased access as a reward for helping others.

Now this concept is developing into a new alternative workforce involving mostly unskilled workers being paid a small wage for performing repetitive and mundane tasks. I can imagine a future when there are more "crowdsource" workers than traditional workers. I can also imagine that this trend could explode if/when unemployment rises to unprecedented levels.

This is also an excellent way to enable increasing numbers of alternative workers to earn an income by working whenever and wherever they want to.

Human Workers, Managed by an Algorithm - Technology Review

Software developed by a startup called MobileWorks represents the latest trend in crowdsourcing: organizing foreign workers on a mass scale to do routine jobs that computers aren't yet good at, like checking spreadsheets or reading receipts.

By assigning such tasks to people in emerging economies, MobileWorks hopes to get good work for low price.