The Hidden Labor of Automation

Inaugural lecture by Claartje ter Hoeven

Platform labor is mainly known from Uber and Just Eat Takeaway, but most platform workers work at home, behind their computers. This online platform work usually consists of short tasks, such as labelling images, to model artificial intelligence. Who are these online platform workers, why do they do this work, and what are their working conditions? On May 6th, in her inaugural lecture "The Hidden Labor of Automation", Prof. Claartje ter Hoeven, professor of 'Organisational Dynamics in the Digital Society' at Erasmus University Rotterdam, will discuss the work and working conditions of online platform workers.

Crowd work, cloud work, microwork and ghost work are just some of the names used to describe online platform work. The supply of this work is growing rapidly and is largely invisible. These online workers are managed by algorithms and have no supervisors or colleagues to talk to. They, therefore, receive no feedback, except whether or not their work is 'accepted' by an anonymous client. In addition, they have no labor protection and often work for a minimum wage or even less. As automation and artificial intelligence continue to grow, it is important to investigate the human labor necessary to make it work.  

Improving working conditions 

In the EU, more and more attention is being paid to platform work. That is why a Directive has been drafted by the European Commission, intending to improve platform workers' working conditions and protection. This also received a lot of attention in the Dutch media. However, policymakers and journalists mainly focus on the location-dependent platform workers visible on our streets. This research can have important policy implications for the group of online to online platform workers by making this work more visible. Professor Claartje ter Hoeven advocates asking platform workers how we can best do this. During her inaugural lecture, she will discuss the first results of this approach. 

About Claartje ter Hoeven

Professor Claartje ter Hoeven is scientific director and coordinator of the interdisciplinary research and master programme "Organisational Dynamics in the Digital Society" connected to the strategy ‘Meeting the Future Society’ of the Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences. Currently, her teaching and research focus on how digital technologies change work. In 2020, she received an ERC consolidator grant for the project "The Ghostworker's Well-Being: An Integrative Framework" on the working conditions and well-being of online platform workers in Europe. She is part of the steering committee of the 4th Erasmus Initiative "Societal Impact of AI", in which she focuses on the theme of AI in work and labor. Together with the municipality of Rotterdam and colleagues from Public Administration, she is involved in GOVLAB010. She is also a board member of the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for BOLD Cities, which uses big data research to find solutions to urban issues.

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