As more tasks become automated through the use of machine learning and AI driven systems, there’s been a worry that many people would lose their jobs. On the flipside, there’s been optimism that automation will take people away from dreary and repetitive tasks and direct their skills to more complex or rewarding work. But a recent study by the United Nations’ International Labor Organization (ILO) says the reality, at least for now, is very different.
The ILO study looked at so-called micro-task workers. These are jobs that can’t yet be automated and require a human touch. The study looked at five sites that offer this kind of work to human operators. You’ll see the work often advertised with the promise of a flexible schedule that lets work from home and earning an income on your own terms.
The kinds of tasks that are advertised are things like retweeting specific content. For example, in the report, the ILO showed one tasks that would earn you the princely sum of US$0.16 for three minutes of work.
Unsurprisingly, the pay rates earned from the tasks resulted in hideously low hourly rates. In the United States, where the federally-mandated minimum wage is a pitiful US$7.25 per hour, microtask workers made a median of $5.63 per hour with the average a marginally better $6.54 per hour.
It gets worse. Outside the US, those hourly rates plummeted to a median of US$2.16
Five platforms were reviewed in the study. They were Mechanical Turk, Crowdflower, Clickworker, Prolific and Microworker.
Whenever technology delivers new ways of doing things there are people whose jobs either disappear or change radically, pushing them out of the workforce. The ILO is not indicative of this. What these sites do is empower companies to recruit vulnerable workers, desperate for money, and exploit them.