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Twitter Thread: Star Trek and the Inhumanity of Gig Economies

Twitter user _danilo uses an example from Star Trek to explain some of the dangers of having an industry that lacks face-to-face interaction with its own workers. It's scary enough to imagine your job being done by a cold, calculating robot, but what if your boss's job was done by a cold, calculating robot? For something with more Star Trek fun and less technocratic dread, here's an awesome Tumblr post on how hard humans go in Star Trek.

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  • 1
    Text - Frisco Uplink @_danilo After the premiere of Picard name checked Bruce Maddox, decided to head back and watch Measure of a Man, TNG S2E09. And it turns out Maddox is a bit of a tech bro. Startling how well this holds up three decades later. This kind of guy is still a problem. 6:25 PM 24 Jan 20 · Tweetbot for iOS
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  • 2
    Text - Frisco Uplink @_danilo As a refresher, The Measure of a Man was TNG at its hammiest, most thought provoking best. A courtroom drama where the fate of Data hinges on the question of whether he is sentient being deserving of what we'd call basic "human rights." 6:30 PM 24 Jan 20 · Tweetbot for iOS
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  • 3
    Text - After Riker delivers a devastating presentation that proves Data is an elaborate machine, Picard joins Guinan for a drink. Guinan warns Picard that civilizations love nothing more than to create "disposable people," to do the jobs no one else wants, with no recourse. 6:33 PM 24 Jan 20 · Tweetbot for iOS
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    Text - Guinan's point is that by creating a special category that allows Data to be property by an arbitrary distinction, the Federation risks creating a permanent underclass. This was the lever Picard needed -he wins the argument by appealing to Starfleet's high mindedness. 6:38 PM 24 Jan 20 · Tweetbot for iOS.
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  • 5
    Text - Frisco Uplink @_danilo This got me to thinking about Silicon Valley innovation. Today, androids are far beyond our technological capabilities. So what the Valley did was build it lean. Rather than building artificial laborers, the tech industry invented artificial supervisors. 6:40 PM · 24 Jan 20 · Tweetbot for iOS
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  • 6
    Text - Frisco Uplink @_danilo When the algorithm determines who gets fired, when you work, what you get paid, and everything else about your daily life, there's no limit to the cruelty of the workplace. The human needs of the laborers are invisible to the software. 6:42 PM 24 Jan 20 · Tweetbot for iOS
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  • 7
    Text - Frisco Uplink @_danilo You don't need to invent an entire android under this model, nor do you need to bear the costs of manufacture. The software becomes an abstraction around real humans, but the owners of the business never need see them or interact with them in a supervisory context. Rows in a db. 6:44 PM 24 Jan 20 Tweetbot for iOS
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  • 8
    Text - Frisco Uplink @_danilo We're left with "algorithmically disposable people." Entirely commodified labor that can be discarded at will. No one has to look them in the eye when they're fired. No one need think of their kids or dependent parents. No one has to worry about a thing -except the workers. 6:46 PM 24 Jan 20 - Tweetbot for iOS
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  • 9
    Text - Frisco Uplink @_danilo Gig workers are precarious not only because they lack benefits, but also because the everyday bedrock of their work is determined by a black box algorithm designed to extract maximum profit for a distant corporation. They are raw material to be optimized. 6:51 PM: 24 Jan 20: Tweetbot for ios
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  • 10
    Text - Frisco Uplink @_danilo And what is so dark about this is that the software is perfectly suited to this task. Software perfectly shields the humans profiting from this one-sided equation from confronting the personal toll it takes on the algorithmically disposable people the company is chewing through. 6:54 PM : 24 Jan 20 - Tweetbot for ios
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  • 11
    Text - Frisco Uplink @_danilo One of the most striking parts of @Mikelsaac's Super Pumped is how OPTIONAL it was for Uber management to interact with drivers. They could hide away, pop out to interact with the drivers IF THEY WANTED, and go back into hiding again, and the machine kept working either way. 6:56 PM 24 Jan 20 Tweetbot for iOS
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  • 12
    Text - Frisco Uplink @_danilo This isn't just a function of software. This is also an outcome of an unequal economy. You can't treat workers as disposable if they they have more appealing, more reliable, more humane alternatives. The gig economy depends on economic desperation and limited opportunity. 6:59 PM : 24 Jan 20 · Tyweetbot for iOS
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  • 13
    Text - Frisco Uplink @_danilo So this isn't JUST Silicon Valley's fault. It's a a symptom of an enormous broken system. But it illustrates how this industry can use software to extract value from vulnerable populations with limited recourse. We have a lot of work to do to make this right for people. 7:01 PM 24 Jan 20 · Tweetbot for iOS
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  • 14
    Text - Frisco Uplink @_danilo All of this is an inversion of the drama Star Trek imagined. But its warning is still important: Automation can be used to hide our cruelty from view. But we're still responsible for it. 7:06 PM 24 Jan 20 · Tweetbot for iOS
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    MinWage
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