Crowdsourcing: Are We Making Humans Obsolete? Will commercial crowdsourcing eventually lead to human obsoletion in the work force, despite its current numerous advantages.
Crowdsourcing is nothing new, although its popularity as a source of cheap labour is fairly recent due to new Internet technology. Originally, crowdsourcing (CS) was intended to be a way of tapping into the combined brain power of the masses to resolve various issues for the benefit of all mankind. However, CS is now being used to exploit and manipulate the massive global population into providing cheap labour. All types of businesses and government agencies now engage in crowdsourcing.
CS is also being used to improve the “artificial intelligence” capabilities of various devices, such as computers, cars, planes, and phones. Why are the machines being made smarter? It is so humans will no longer be needed to do the tasks the machines are being “trained” to do. These tasks started out as mundane tasks that humans allegedly prefer not to do. However, they are now advancing into more complex tasks and causing unemployment for various sectors of the global population. Thus, although there may be numerous advantages to crowdsourcing in the short term, one must question what the long term impacts crowdsourcing will have on the human race.
Changing from Traditional to Outsourcing to Crowdsourcing
The primary disadvantage of CS is that it is now replacing outsourcing as a way of reducing business expenses. Many humans felt the economic crunch when large corporations changed from traditional business models to outsourcing models. Unemployment in various sectors of the population was a direct result of large companies outsourcing work to other countries. And as a chain reaction to the unemployment, consumers quit buying expensive and unnecessary products and services. This in turn, led to even more unemployment, business closings and economic hardships. Continuing the chain reaction, the businesses were forced to continue outsourcing in order to maintain profitability and marketplace competitiveness.
As a direct result of unemployment and indirectly as a result of outsourcing, many individuals began operating small, home-based businesses all around the world. By 2012, just in the UK alone, 4.6 million of 4.8 million businesses were small, sole-proprietor businesses. After discovering the numerous drawbacks to using cheap labour from other countries, the larger corporations became the clientele for these micro businesses. The micro businesses could not cope with all the workload and outsourced some of the tasks to other local micro businesses. Thus, people were again employed, only at a lesser rate of pay and amount of available work. The economy started to improve until crowdsourcing became a part of the new business models. Crowdsourcing became a feasible business model once all of the unemployed and under-employed masses became connected to the internet.
This is because many of the unemployed and under-employed workers did not actually start up micro businesses. They simply started earning a marginal income by contributing to CS projects and various websites. The individuals were merely classified as micro businesses for tax purposes. However, many individuals participate in crowdsourcing without even realising they are doing so.
For instance, people contribute articles, videos, poetry, photography; and music to various contests and web sites. These contests, surveys and websites are operated by business enterprises that use the supplied content in numerous ways. Many will perform mundane tasks such as posting to a blog or forum, proofreading articles, or rating short audio and video clips for just a few pence per task performed. Paying a few pence instead of several pounds or euros for someone to perform these mundane but essential tasks greatly benefits the companies. Other individuals submit their ideas for new inventions, solutions to industrial problems, or perform transcription or data entry tasks in exchange for a small monetary compensation, prize reward or kudos. This saves the companies the hassle and cost of hiring an employee or outsourcing the work to a professional contractor.
Some people are conscious that they are participating in crowdsourcing. They do so to gain recognition, as an outlet for their unused skills, or to test their own abilities. Some participate in order to gain knowledge or to share their knowledge with other people. Others participate because it is their only option for working from home or earning any income. These people are content to get very little in return for their contributions. What they may not be aware of is the fact that they are contributing to the unemployment of people who are better qualified for the job. For that matter, they may even be contributing to their own eventual unemployment problems.
Possible Negative Impact of Crowdsourcing
By providing their skills, knowledge and creative talents for less than minimum wage, people participating in CS are providing businesses with an alternative to hiring highly qualified employees. They are also helping the businesses avoid outsourcing the work to other businesses and professional freelancers. They are also contributing to the poorer quality in many products and services, such as magazines, newspapers, health management care and customer care services.
Additionally, they are contributing to the trend for replacing humans with machines to do various jobs, such as in the office and clerical fields. Due to volunteers working on CS projects, computers are being “trained” to replace office clerks, secretaries, receptionists, transcriptionists and customer care specialists. Professional writers, photographers, reporters, editors, and printing offices are also becoming redundant as various tools of the trade become imbued with artificial intelligence and speech recognition technology.
And in the United States, a crowdsourcer even used the combined information gathered from air traffic controllers to develop a software programme. That software programme is now being used to replace those same air traffic controllers. The air traffic controllers had been under the impression that the project’s purpose was to standardise some of the tasks and make aviation safer. Apparently the crowdsourcer considers unmanned air traffic control towers to be safer for aviation than having humans man the towers.
More Negative Impacts
Moreover, various companies are already developing vehicles that can operate without a human at the onboard controls. Think about the drone planes, drone tanks and monorail trains. Furthermore think about the new cars that drive and park themselves. Eventually, pilots, chauffeurs, cab drivers, engineers, and bus drivers will become redundant too. And since they are now working on androids that can imitate humans, flight attendants and other service oriented jobs are in danger. And with the new push to automate healthcare, many nurses, physician’s assistants and lab technicians will most likely become nonessential employees too.
Another negative impact of crowdsourcing could be humans becoming dumber instead of smarter. They may also become less physically and mentally healthy. The more machines do the creative thinking and problem-solving, then the less frequently humans will use their own minds. Plus, the more we change our speech patterns to better communicate with the “smart” devices, the less capable we become at communicating with other humans. Most people do not have an adequate command of their own native languages the way it is. And the more physical tasks the devices perform then the fewer reasons people have for participating in physical activates. Look at how many people started living sedentary lifestyles once the use of computers and televisions became more widespread. The overall situation would be enough to create more mental anguish and instability for the majority of humans whose lives have been devalued by the use of crowdsourcing.
Beneficial Impact of Crowdsourcing
CS does have many advantages, when truly used for the benefit of mankind and not just for commercial profits. For instance, it can be used as a way to decrease hunger, poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, and prejudices simply by making the mass populations more aware of the extent of these social problems. The crowdsourcing allows millions of people to become aware of the issue and to actively work on ways to resolve them.
It is also a good way for people to share and gain knowledge about anything and everything. Many breakthroughs in various fields of research have been made by tapping into the combined intelligence and capabilities of the general population. Numerous breakthroughs have also been made by tapping into the combined intelligence and capabilities of specifically targeted sectors of the mass population. Unfortunately, not all of the breakthroughs have benefited the masses as much as they have benefited individual commercial enterprises
Therefore, CS should not be banned entirely. However, those who provide crowdsourcing services need to seriously consider the impacts they are making on society and their own lives. Humans must start asking why we need smarter devices to do the work we can do for ourselves or have another human do for us. We must also ask ourselves why we continue to let commercial enterprises devalue us as human beings.
We should make the businesses stick to traditional or outsourcing business models. And only use crowdsourcing for truly humanitarian purposes. However, eventually, some enterprising individual will find a way to take the combined information that has been amassed and turn it into a commercial enterprise. So even when working on humanitarian crowdsourcing projects we should ask ourselves if we are making humans obsolete by performing the tasks for little to no compensation.