Last week, I wrote about the acceleration of robotization in three major industries that employ massive numbers of people without formal educational requirements. I have previously written about the lack of circulation of the money supply, as well as the innate need for human beings to contribute to society. It seems to me that there is a convergence of these three threads leading to a dialogue about the economic and social future of modern societies.
Social anthropologists maintain that we each have a very deep psychological drive to contribute to our community (tribe). In ancient tribes, when a member could no longer contribute to the community, they were left behind for the good of the tribe. Psychologists claim that our desire to contribute is an attempt to delay this event for as long as possible. We have come, in the business world, to equate our worth with how much we contribute to our company.
We managed, during the beginnings of the industrial revolution, to convince most people that the true measure of their contribution was how much value they added to the company’s profit margin. That belief has been highly effective in motivating people to focus their contribution on economic activity to the great benefit of that company’s shareholders. It has been wonderful for the economy; not so great when whole tribes get left behind.
The twin challenges then, are to find an equitable means to move money into the marketplace, and find a way for people to contribute. Here are two non-invasive ways to accomplish both objectives. The first is what I have once described as The Social Computer.
The Social Computer, roughly defined, is a combination of computational tasks and human pattern recognition capabilities on a global scale. Computers are used for the repetitive and data collection tasks for which they are so well-equipped. Humans, it turns out, are better at creativity and pattern recognition.
The guiding concept behind the Social Computer is disaggregation. In practice, disaggregation simply means taking a large, complex unit of work – a project, for example – and breaking down each component of the project into smaller, discrete tasks. Those tasks are then further reduced to microtasks. The microtasks can be completed by virtually anyone with a modicum of computer skill and connection to the internet.
The hierarchy of work is diamond-shaped rather than a pyramid because once the microtasks are completed, they are returned to the center which had originally disaggregated them for reaggregation. This model requires, then, highly competent, conceptual thinkers at the top of the diamond and again at the bottom of the diamond.
The work done in between can be done by people of varying skill and ability. It can also be done virtually anywhere, at any time. Examples of Social Computer websites are Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, oDesk, eLance, Freelancer.com, Staff.com, and many more. They are found in both very general categories and for very specialized niches of industries. Income earned by workers ranges from a few pennies per click to over $135/hour, depending upon the skill and experience required.
The advantage to companies is that, rather than hiring employees, the work is performed remotely. It is a variable rather than a fixed cost. It does not represent a long-term, capital-intensive investment. The advantage to the person performing the work is that they are no longer dependent upon the vagaries of the particular company in which they would, under other circumstances, be employed. The work can also be done anywhere, at any time, as long as deadlines and quality specifications are met. This is truly a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE).
The second form of recirculation of currency is a very different model. What do Google, Amazon, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter, etc. all have in common? Mostly, it is the massive collection of private data which is then manipulated and sold to advertisers. In other words, the raw material of this entire genre of companies is our data.
Data about us is collected every time we use our computers, the internet, mobile devices, electronic payment services, credit cards, etc. We provide the essential raw material to the aggregators and they refine and sell that information. Without the data collected, the aggregators would not exist, and certainly would not have accrued the vast fortunes upon which they now sit.
Is it unreasonable to expect payment for the raw data collected? My local supermarket repays the information it collects through a “membership club” by granting rebates on my purchases. They, in turn, use that data to predict buying patterns and determine which goods are more likely to sell. Everyone benefits.
Why is that not true of the major aggregators? It would be a simple matter for Google to return a micropayment to my cyber-account every time they collect a piece of information about me. When every other aggregator does the same, some of the billions of dollars the aggregators accrue would be returned to the economy. My friends in technology assure me that this is not a difficult task. After all, Google knows exactly where it collected the information about me!
In a world where fewer and fewer people are necessary to produce the goods and services which we have chosen not to live without, we are forced to find a new structure within our economy to keep the currency circulating. Mandatory redistribution through taxation and government programs has not proven to be an efficient method. In times of chaotic economic change, waiting for the market to magically readjust ignores the immediate desperation of great numbers of people.
By making work available to anyone from anywhere (Solution One), and by paying for the raw material of profit generation (Solution Two), we at least have a viable model to move money out of corporate coffers and into the hands of consumers who can then generate more business.
Neither model is new. They both exist in limited form today. They provide an immediate solution to an increasingly serious problem. How can we accelerate their acceptance?