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My Resume Is In The Incinerator, So Gig Me, Baby!


In opinion / By Nigel Powell / 26 October 2016

The alarm breaks my head, shatters it into a thousand pieces, just as I'm about to enjoy the kind of silky sunsets you find only in dreams. The beach will have to wait, as I blearily open eyes and glare at the JacBot by my bed making its obscene wake up call. Why did we let these things get so annoying? Time to start work, so no time to think. Breakfast is fast, a green slurry of bland, and then it's onto the comm-link to grok what's humming today in my world.

The signs of change are all around us. Driver-less cars and AI phone assistants are only the tip of an iceberg which will probably result in at least a 60% decimation of the traditional job market. If we can use a robot ePassport booth to check passports in immigration, why pay expensive people to do the same job? As Maelle Gavet of travel company The Priceline Group said in a recent Fortune article, “AI has the potential to replace us all in this room, it’s an interesting cocktail waiting for us to fundamentally change.” The big question is, are we ready?

I scan through my gig list. There are around 200 task-jobs I'm eligible for this month, which is pretty good, but it means I'm going to be busy. My first offer comes in 10 minutes after I finish the shave and suit. CALL 3 DEBTORS AND REQUEST FINAL PAYMENT. 10 Credits. This is cool, I've done this before and it's short enough to finish before my auto-ride arrives to start my real day. I sit down at the terminal and start reeling through the numbers flashing up on screen. The first 2 calls go like a breeze, the last is a stubborn pig who costs me far too much time on my hourlie rate. Still it's done eventually, and I start the day just a little bit richer.

The first of the gig stories hit the decks around the early noughties, Uber was the poster child, but the rash of follow ons like TaskRabbit, FieldAgent and the rest quickly started to redefine the market, and highlight the demand for the kind of instant work that was bubbling up under a sickly job market. Startups loved it, immigrants excelled at it, and the taxman ignored it, to a point. Sure the Dept of Labor tried its best to oversee the zero hour, zero time workforce, but it was half-hearted at best, and pitiful at worst. The gig work Wild West was here to stay.

I'm in the auto-ride en route to my first set of serious task-jobs. I'm supposed to deliver some high value merchandise to a broker in the city, but within a couple of minutes I'm hailed by a juicy Ad-hoc, which I can't turn down. The car stops at the next job-light kerb, and I get a package thrust through the window. There's just enough time to sort the legal papers while I'm moving, I can drop them off completed a couple of stops down my route. Easy money!

The serious concerns about the impact of AI employment only really hit the ground with the arrival of the ultra smart systems such as Google DeepMind which first emerged in 2010. By 2013 an Oxford University research paper was suggesting that fully 47% of US jobs were at high risk of disappearing over the following decade. Hardest hit; transportation, production and clerical work. Most secure? Surgeons and financial management. Oh and fine arts. Get that paint brush out, Roger. In the three years to date, the predictions have proved to be solid, as various industries have shed tens of thousands of jobs due to automation of one sort or another. Technological unemployment they call it.

It's half past drudge and I'm on my way back from the prime gig for the day, another 50 credits stashed in my CloudBank, when another call comes in. This time it's one of my favourites, a swing-by to a local mall to check up on some stock issues which need verification. It's usually fast, just point a barcode reader at a room full of boxes, and there's no delay in payment. The perfect gig. Plus if I'm lucky I can pick up a useful bit of tech for a hefty discount as a perk. While I'm driving there, I quickly punch out some copy for an ad firm in Bangalore who've called for a rush job, and take over as a relief call center operator for some girl in Glasgow who needs the restroom. These little gigs pay nothing, but they fill my dead time and add up over the month. Last year I paid for a new holo-TV with these little extras. You've gotta look at the big picture, right?

The good news in all this is the report's suggestion that the loss of 'traditional' jobs will be offset to a slight degree by a rise in the demand for more creative and social skills. Pushing a button may be toast, but caring for the elderly, baby-sitting and designing interesting new cereal packets is probably something that will stay safe. In the meantime, the gigsters will continue to fill the gap, with ultra low paid, servile mini-work, operating on the fringes of a system which really has no answer to the rise of a computerised sales assistant or auto-driving haulage truck. The gig's the thing.

Night time is relaxing. Just me, some joe and the holo-TV. Maybe I'll catch a movie or see what I can do to upgrade my Credit values by doing some speed learning. Word has it there's a new generation of gigs which will pay well for ultra fast completion in under 30 seconds. Challenge accepted!

Nigel Powell

Nigel Powell

Nigel is a renowned technology journalist and commentator, having previously worked for The Times, The Sunday Times and Sky TV. He writes about technology and runs the Red Ferret blog.

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