Review of Ghost Work

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Researchers Mary L. Gray and Siddharth Suri delve into an invisible segment of the labor market: the “ghost workers” who perform technology industry labor that code and AI can’t do. The authors reveal the flaws in how society undervalues gig work and part-time jobs. They draw a historical line from marginalized workers doing piecework in sweatshops to today’s gig workers, an important analogy since on-demand work is likely the future of employment. Gray and Suri advocate legal and societal changes to make gig work viable for workers and businesses.

About the Authors

Mary L. Gray is a senior researcher at Microsoft and a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. She also is a faculty member at Indiana University’s School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering. Microsoft senior researcher Siddharth Suri was part of the Human and Social Dynamics group at Yahoo Research before becoming a founding member of Microsoft Research New York City.


Behind the seamless performance of software applications lurks an invisible army of people doing “ghost work.”

Researchers Mary L. Gray and Siddharth Suri explain that ghost work is made up of the countless tasks that workers perform behind the scenes in the United States and worldwide. Ghost workers fill the gaps between what AI and algorithms can accomplish and what the end consumer expects. They apply ingenuity to problems that software cannot yet solve.

“Ghost work,” the authors write, “is a great tool for solving problems that machines alone can’t solve efficiently on their own.” Software companies use ghost workers to train the very AI applications that these firms hope will replace much of their human workforce. As applications become more powerful, human labor makes them competent and responsive.

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