Seeing Tech Work Conversations with the authors of Ghost Work, the winner of the 2019 McGannon Book Prize

July 9, 2020, 12:30 - 2:30 p.m. Via Zoom Webinar

Ghost Work Book Cover
The McGannon Center has awarded the book prize to wonderful manuscripts in the past, including Yochai Benkler's Wealth of Networks, Daniel Solove's The Future of Reputation, James Boyle's The Public Domain, Tim Wu's The Master Switch, Siva Vaidhyanathan's The Googlization of Everything, Christina Dunbar-Hester's Low Power to the People, and Simone Browne's Dark Matters.

Last year, we awarded the book prize to Virginia Eubanks for writing Automating Inequality, an elegant and incisive account of the toll that automated decisionmaking systems have on the most vulnerable recipients of government services. This year, with this award to Ghost Work, we turn our attention to the unsung human laborers that make the newest technologies work as marketed. Ghost Work is the latest in a recent line of research, including Anatomy of an AI System by Kate Crawford & Vladan Joler and Behind the Screen by Sarah Roberts, that chronicles the political economy underlying today's most popular networked services. The McGannon Center promotes research that uncovers the lived social impacts of communications technologies. We are honored to associate ourselves with Ghost Work through this year's award. And we are grateful to Gray and Suri for writing it.

About the Program

Last January, the McGannon Center announced that
Ghost Work: How to Stop Silicon Valley from Building a New Global Underclass (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by
Mary L. Gray and Siddharth Suri had won our book prize for a manuscript published in 2019. As we explained then, Ghost Work offers an important nuance to common perceptions about the ways in which the most celebrated AI-driven consumer applications and products today (think Uber, Amazon's Echo, or Facebook's News Feed) significantly depend on underserved on-demand workers from around the world. Gray and Suri draw on extensive interviews and data analytics to show that this large, invisible, and mostly unsupported workforce is essential to such things as geolocation, online payment systems, and content moderation. This human labor, they illustrate, is essential to fixing glitches and gaps, but remains obscured by claims from Silicon Valley and their boosters about full automation and the power of AI.

The July 9 event will have three parts. First, Gary and Suri will talk about the key findings of the book, as well as more contemporary questions concerning, for example, Facebook employees' recent pushback against CEO Mark Zuckerberg's statements about the company's laissez-faire approach to misinformation and work stoppage efforts at Amazon across the country in light of concerns about COVID-19. In the second part, Sarah Roberts (UCLA) and Lilly Irani (UC San Diego), leading scholars of tech work, will set out their reactions to Ghost Work's main findings. In the third part of the July 9 event, we will pull away from Ghost Work's specific focus on tech work and turn to Kimani Paul-Emile (Fordham) and
Sam Roberts (Columbia) who will draw on their research to discuss healthcare workers, another underserved workforce, and the problems they endure. They will focus especially on the ways in which people of color are, on the one hand, disproportionately represented among this workforce and, on the other hand, the likeliest in the general population to suffer from COVID-19.


Mary Gray
Author, Ghost Work; Senior Principal Researcher, Microsoft Research

Lilly Irani
Associate Professor, Communication, Science Studies, Computer Science, Critical Gender Studies, Design Lab, UC Sandiego

Kimani Paul-Emile
Professor of Law, Fordham Law School

Sarah Roberts
Assistant Professor of Information Studies, UCLA

Samuel K. Roberts
Associate Professor of History and of Sociomedical Sciences, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia

Siddharth Suri
Author, Ghost Work; Senior Principal Researcher, Microsoft Research

Moderator: Olivier Sylvain
Professor, Fordham Law School; Director, McGannon Center

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