From digital labour platforms to artificial intelligence, technological developments are transforming the daily reality of work. Tens of millions of workers interface with these technologies in ways that expose them to both risks and benefits.
Improvements in productivity and access to essential income and opportunities intersect with changes to the organisation of work that can result in outcomes like low pay, precarity and poor and dangerous working conditions.
From digital labour platforms to artificial intelligence, technological developments are transforming the way we work. Tens of millions of workers navigate these technologies in ways that expose them to both risks and benefits. In some cases, these technologies can generate new job opportunities and improve productivity, but often they also result in outcomes like low pay, precarity and dangerous working conditions.
Fairwork exists to highlight the best and worst examples of how new technologies are being used in the workplace. Through research on digital labour platforms and artificial intelligence, our goal is that the future of work can be made up of better and fairer jobs.
By evaluating platforms and employers against measures of fairness, we hope to shape a fairer future of work for all.
The Fairwork project is based at the Oxford Internet Institute and the WZB Berlin Social Science Center. Through our global network of researchers, we conduct research on three key areas:
- Location-based platform work ratings: We evaluate the working conditions of digital platforms and rank them based on our five principles of fair platform work. We produce national rankings in 38 countries across 5 continents. These ratings include location-based platforms in sectors like food delivery, ride-hailing, domestic work, beauty services and more.
- Cloudwork ratings: Cloudwork is work that can be performed online from anywhere in the world. This includes small tasks like filling in surveys and training AI systems, to freelance services like translation, web development or design. We rate the working conditions on major global cloudwork platforms in line with our five principles of fair online work.
- Fairwork AI: Through in-depth case study research and our AI Principles, we evaluate the working conditions of those who interact with and do the work that is critical to AI systems.
What is the platform economy?
One branch of Fairwork’s research focuses on ‘digital labour platforms’. A digital labour platform is a company that mediates and facilitates “labour exchange between different users, such as businesses, workers and consumers (ILO 2021)”. Digital platforms like Airbnb or eBay—where goods are exchanged—are not included within this definition.
There are two broad types of digital labour platforms. In the first—’geographically-tethered’ or ‘location-based’ platforms—the work is required to be done in a particular location (e.g. delivering food from a restaurant to an apartment or driving a person from one part of town to another). We call these ‘gig work platforms’.
What is Cloudwork?
In contrast to location-based platforms, ’cloudwork’ platforms (or online remote work platforms) are platforms in which work can, in theory, be performed from anywhere via the internet and remotely.
There are many different types of online work. Some cloudwork platforms facilitate work such as surveys, data labelling and processing, Artificial Intelligence training, and image categorisation. Such tasks can take a matter of seconds or minutes to complete and are often called ‘microwork’. Other cloudwork platforms specialise in high-skilled freelance services, such as translation, design, illustration, web development, and writing.
Fairwork assesses global and regional cloudwork platforms, with a set of special that reflect the nature and specificities of this kind of platform work.
What is Artificial Intelligence (AI)?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a set of technologies that “seeks to make computers do the sorts of things that minds can do” (Boden 2016). Different kinds of AI can perform an ever-increasing range of tasks, from image recognition to language processing, using a variety of computing methods.
The boundaries of AI tend to be a little elastic, but the OECD defines AI systems as “a machine-based system that can, for a given set of human-defined objectives, make predictions, recommendations, or decisions influencing real or virtual environments” (OECD 2019).
In 2022, Fairwork led a project funded by the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to develop a set of principles to guide the fair use of AI systems in the workplace. Fairwork has now adopted these principles to measure the fairness of Artificial Intelligence systems in workplaces across the world.
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