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The Economics of protest: the precariat the digital age
Material posted: Publication date: 10-10-2018
The digital era was marked by an amazing combination of medieval and ultra-modern technology. The latter is used by the people, but soon people will not need it.

99.9% of the class struggle is not revolutionary. Basically the fight is in a latent form routine daily resistance, which American political scientist James Scott called the weapon of the weak. However, their value and possible transformation into something more serious in many cases are determined by the existing technology purely practical application possibilities.

The middle class, reached the peak of its power in the 1970s, slowly but surely lowered up to the current state of the precariat. Under the precariat (precarious — unstable, "unstable", combined with the word "proletariat"), the author of the term, a British economist guy standing, understands the new class, which is characterized by the absence of permanent employment, shrinking social security and civil rights.

Automation, outsourcing, and technological change in the balance of power has already led to a sharp weakening of the weak.

And there are all preconditions in order that in the near future evolution of the proletariat to the precariat will continue and the last will be the "nanogenerator".

Robotics and the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) will make "weak" is simply unnecessary. To the extent to which the invention of the internal combustion engine made horses unnecessary in the early twentieth century.

In the foreseeable future people will meet the robot face to face. Photo: Reuters

Studies on the prospects of replacement of people with robots by industry and individual economies, for hundreds, if not thousands. And their conclusions are similar. If you believe the economists Carl Frey and Michael Osborne, of the United States, the country leader of technical progress, by 2033 under the onslaught of robotics at risk to disappear 47% of jobs. The world Bank has estimated that for China, this share may be altogether 77%. The international labour organization believes that even in countries such as Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand, 56% of workers fall under the risk of automation (see "Rabovladeltsa system").

Many economists, including Russia, are inclined to believe that fear is exaggerated. Their criticism can be reduced to the thesis that through the process of automating the world economy is continuously at least since the beginning of the first industrial revolution, but in the end nothing terrible happens — jobs are created.

However, critics are not fully aware of what artificial intelligence is able to replace "skills Polanyi's", which until recently were considered uniquely human (recognition of images and sound, an algorithmic processing and transformation, fine motor skills). Spheres of activity where people can be more productive than the car will probably be less and less.

As the specialist in AI Sergei Markov, the probability of automation of the profession in the short or medium term largely depends on three main characteristics of the labor process — the degree of patterns and monotony performed by the employee operations, implementation, interactions with clients, contractors and other participants in the business process by using standard interfaces (e.g., standard forms, template of communication through voice or text communication channels) and the presence of accumulated amounts of data that can be used to train the artificial intelligence system designed to replace the employee.

Masters of the algorithms and rickshaws of the XXI century

The formation of the precariat has long been in the sphere of interest of economists. Meanwhile, the rapidly growing in recent years, the digital economy is able to give odds to all these processes. Here the trends are even more dramatic than in the last 50 years, shifting the balance of power to the detriment of "weak".

In the case of the digital economy, or as it is called, "platform" or gig-economy, owners of capital is essentially the owners of the algorithms. Many, if not most, modern high-tech companies and especially technostarters really no material assets. Their main asset is often the algorithm and the means of communication platform, mainly in the form of a mobile application for a particular activity. A classic case here, of course, Uber.

Algoritmization the structure of the gig-economy allows you to bypass all the formal rights of employees that they inherited from "carbon democracy," Mitchell, medical insurance, minimum wage, pensions, a formal written contract, severance pay, social benefits, etc.

In the state of Uber has only a few thousand employees, and downloaded in the smartphone algorithm application on the company in fact employs about 2 million drivers around the world.

A few Uber staff get good wages, although their welfare is not comparable with the income of the owners of the company. But 2 million drivers have a median income of just over $150 a month. Uber does not consider its drivers employees and not provide them any social benefits.

Uber drivers aren't too happy with their lot. Photo: Reuters

The emergence of a class "rickshaw XXI century", working on a digital economy is, in fact, domestic outsourcing, the discovery of capital in the developed countries the labour force, which can provide the working conditions almost comparable with those in Bangladesh or Cambodia. Domestic outsourcing is similar to the process of internal colonization (see the book by Alexander Etkind "Internal colonization. Russia's Imperial experience"). Especially notable is the application to the "autochthonous" population practices worked in the colonies (nowadays in modern countries, outsourcing).

This is all very nice for owners of algorithms and clients, but also is a trend, which will greatly enhance prioritization, polarization of jobs, inequality and further weakening weak. In countries with strong networks of social protection (Netherlands, France, Germany, Sweden) ubersetze still poorly threaten the erosion of the middle class, but for USA and some other countries the situation may become more acute in the near future.

Ideally, the Almighty algorithm "rickshaws of the XXI century" is needed only as a temporary solution before the advent of more advanced technologies. Cars without drivers — the nearest future, and shareholders Uber 2 million self-employed will soon be not necessary: they already have the capital to buy or rent multi-million dollar fleet of Autonomous machines and add to them the algorithm that provides the transport at the client's request.

"Rickshaws of the XXI century" work on the new economy. Photo: Bloomberg via Getty Images

Even more simple configuration of the company is only one algorithm that allows owners of Autonomous cars (for example, major automakers) to provide mobility on demand (in this case, Uber will be similar to Airbnb — a company, consisting, essentially, of one algorithm linking the world of property owners).

By the way, adhering to Uber, Airbnb and similar companies to some, the term sharing economy ("the sharing economy", i.e. economy based on the fact that the agents share with each other those or other good) is often misled about its alleged altruistic nature. No one who just does not divided, just the algorithm and the application streamline the use of a particular good and to increase the return. For example, the same private vehicle is used by only about 10% of the time, and the remaining 90% it's idle (and some property). In fact, this optimization is limited in most cases by private households. In the industry and largely in the service sector capacity utilization and long ago optimized, and in households obvious candidate for optimization is the car (to a lesser extent, real estate). It is difficult to imagine an attempt to "roscherite" TV in the house, kitchen appliances or clothing. So by itself, the effect of sharing economy is limited, though important for certain niches (especially private car ownership).

The algorithm is the overseer and chief

The technology is almost not leave the person of the right to privacy. Photo: Reuters

While the people of the brave new world of the digital economy has not yet fully replaced, it is necessary to optimize their activities, in particular building them total control. The opportunities offered by new technologies, impressive.

Expensive and unreliable monitoring of employees (due to the fact that they were people who, in turn, had to follow) quite successfully replaced by cheap and reliable algorithms. The ability of routine resistance have hired (yet) working in many areas falling to almost zero.

The modern gig-economy algorithm does the job brilliantly, which would not have coped even the best overseer.

Services like Uber, Lyft or courier service Deliveroo the task of monitoring and evaluation of employee performs algorithm — an application on the smartphone.

In the same Deliveroo algorithm monitors couriers. While these other "rickshaws of the XXI century" is not replaced by drones, Deliveroo even more than Uber, is forced to combine medieval and ultra-modern technology, which in itself is pretty funny.

The algorithm regularly sends employees personal assessment for the month. Couriers who, by the way, as Uber drivers are not included in the staff of the company, and are legally self-employed and have no social protection (the same classic precariat) are evaluated on several parameters. For example, "the time of the adoption order", "to restaurant", "time to customer", "time client", "delay" and "missed orders". The algorithm compares the results of the courier's own estimate of what they should be. Can compliment: "Your average travel time to client was less than our estimate, which means that you meet our level of quality services. Your average difference amounted to -3,1 minutes." And maybe to criticize, in the end, punishing the ruble (or any other currency, even bitcoin).

The algorithm also Uber gives its drivers the ratings on the basis of responses to customer requests and assessments of the clients themselves (it is a kind of outsourcing of monitoring, as indeed almost all other processes except the transaction with the customer and the driver).

The client benefits from cheaper and better service. But the workers have completely lost the ability of routine resistance, the balance of power is shifting toward owners of capital.

A variety of startups — say, California Percolata — implement system algorithmization assessment and control of labour and in other areas of the services sector (in the industry they have already become the norm), such as in retail trade.

Sensors in stores assess the flow of visitors and then look at how many visitors become customers and what checks what the seller has helped them (yet algorithmic economy still is forced to endure living sellers). Then set every seller rating, splitting the check, which he brought on the flow of visitors, and give him a personal rating. The algorithm keeps track of and in what pairs, threes, etc. the sellers work better, and on this basis forms the team looking at the success of sellers in different situations: someone works best when a large flow of visitors, some in small, some morning, some evening. As the founder Percolata Greg Tanaka, "the irony is that we are not automated sellers and automated work Manager; the algorithm copes with it better."

Classic retailers will soon be in the past. Photo: Reuters

Another possible step in the spirit of the digital economy is to bring sellers to outsource and make them self-employed like Uber drivers or couriers Deliveroo. And then even remove the profession — the stores are tested by many TechnologyTM, for example Amazon.


To automate the work of an overseer is a long — standing dream of not only employers, but also political authorities. And here technology give political elites the same exciting prospects as economic ones. Orwell and Zamyatin rest.

As noted by many researchers of authoritarianism and totalitarianism (for example, economist mark Harrison), one of the significant limitations of such regimes — high costs associated with the cost of maintaining the vast apparatus of secret police and comprehensive secrecy.

Technological inventions, especially radio and telephone, rationalized control and helped in the establishment of totalitarian regimes (see, in particular, Frank Dikotter. Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962. Walker and Company, 2010 and David P. Chandler. The Tragedy of Cambodian History, New Haven. Yale University Press, 1991). The phone was used to test employees in real time — the possibility of sabotage (weapons are not only "weak") fell sharply.

Smartphone, as you can see on the example with Deliveroo repeatedly multiplies the control function of simple phone. That can be applied both in blessing and in harm: technology itself is neutral, it is important, as it is known, who and for what purpose uses them.

The smartphone is a perfect tool of control of its owner. Photo: Bloomberg via Getty Images

Neural networks can also be used to solve very different tasks. So, it is possible to train a neural network to identify patterns in the huge volume of case histories of millions of patients and on the basis of this knowledge to find new drugs. But the same neural networks, coping with a hitherto exclusively human task of recognizing visual and audio information, it can be used for surveillance of the population — the "Holy Grail" of any totalitarian regime.

Similar experiments are already being. Ahead of the entire planet, not surprisingly, in recent years — China. The prototype of the future neuromodulators can be observed in China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous region (XUAR), where the traditionally strong separatist sentiments. According to estimates of the analytical company IHS, Markit, in 2015, China already has 176 million surveillance cameras (for comparison: in the USA — only 62 million), and by 2020 they will be installed almost 450 million a Significant part of the camera falls on the sensitive regions of the capital, where almost any area visible by the cameras, and the same XUAR. In the region now, for every 10 thousand inhabitants have the same number of cameras as in other parts of the country is looking for several million people.

But the traditional video surveillance technology to be resisted need to hire an army of supervisors, viewing the trillions of hours of recordings. Comes to the aid of technological progress in the form of able to recognize faces of the neural network.

As noted sinologist Leonid Kovacic, police database stores photos of all registered residents of the XUAR. This base is connected with the neural network, which operates a facial recognition Street cameras in auto mode can track a moving around any person. In many shopping centers installed in front of the scanners, which recognize faces and identify a visitor.

If the person is listed in police files as suspicious, the system automatically sends an alert to the police station. According to Bloomberg, the network alerts the police if "suspicious persons" deviates from its usual route by more than 300 meters. Of course, suspicious to the authorities may be not only ordinary criminals, but also those who are with her in something does not agree. Needless to say, for every car registered in Xinjiang, installed special sensors geolocation ride without supervision it is impossible to enter undetected by car from other region too. Plus power by hook or by crook trying to collect DNA samples from the entire population of the region.

Neurologica outputs control features power over subordinate classes to new, previously unattainable level. On the one hand, the army removed the guards and minimizing the typical economy, the problem of principal-agent, that is, simply put, the need for surveillance of those who takes someone else's order. The neural network, of course, requires its own supervisors, but removed the most time-consuming element of the oversight view and tapping the huge masses of raw data.

Surveillance Big Brother is no longer fiction. Photo: Reuters

While the prototype neuroantigen created only in Xinjiang, but nothing prevents to transfer this experience to other regions, countries and spheres of activity.

The situation when private life can disappear, in principle, not so fantastic.

Totalitarian regimes of the past, might wish to achieve such a degree of control over subjects, but it kind of rested on technological limitations. The neural network, as we are assured in the same China to its advocates, helps to reduce crime. I suppose that's true, but the possible criminal intent of those who control neurosigma and restrictions on the freedom of citizens at risk of becoming a side effect of these good intentions.

Alexander Zotin


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