The Uncertain Status of Gig Work

Also, how digital assistants bring technology closer to our level and new concerns about hardware hacks.

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In the 20th century, it became cheaper for companies in developed countries to employ workers full time than it was for them to find the right people “on demand” for each task that needed doing. But the so-called gig economy has changed that. Today, there are people out there ready and willing to do almost any task: drive you to appointments, bring you a take-out meal, assemble your new Ikea sofa, even clear spiders out of your house. So both individual customers and hiring organizations have just-in-time options aplenty.

As a recent article in The Economist notes, the gig economy is growing, even though many of the jobs may not pay very well. Many workers value the flexibility and income that gig work provides; customers like being able to find people to do things they want done. Still, the extent to which gig workers, typically self-employed individuals, should be afforded the legal rights of employees has yet to be fully resolved in many jurisdictions. Tribunals and courts in England and California have recently ruled in favor of giving gig workers some protections (such as a minimum wage), but decisions in Italy and Australia have gone the other way. “The battle over the gig economy has a long way to run,” The Economist notes, and the outcome of that battle could have implications for both innovation and jobs.

The Distinct Charm of Voice

The number of “smart” speakers connected to the internet and capable of looking up information and performing various tasks is on track to reach an estimated 100 million by the end of 2018. Some analysts expect the number of digital assistants to grow more than 75-fold in the coming years as tech giants like Amazon and Google look for ways to extend voice activation into new areas.

As writer Judith Shulevitz points out in The Atlantic, pursuing voice is a way for the big companies to “colonize space” — to pull appliance and device makers, app developers, and consumers into their ecosystems of products and services. But it’s more than that, too. Amazon’s Alexa, for example, doesn’t simply help people do things they already do (albeit in a different way, “replacing fingers and eyes with mouths and ears”).

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