Is Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, or perhaps Uber, the future of human work or is a more useful tribe-like approach open to us?


The Road to Turkdom
[Via Global Guerrillas]

It should be clear to everyone that the economic and political system that replaced feudal agriculture is starting to fall apart.  

It’s also pretty clear we need a new system, one that can operate at a global scale and fully embrace the potential of new technologies without turning us all into slaves (or killing us).

What does that system look like?  Obviously, it’s very hard to see what is going to replace industrial capitalism and the nation-state while we are still inside of the system.  

Despite that, it’s possible to get a sense of where it is going by looking at where technology is taking us.  I recently did some scifi writing on a short book I’m writing and this is some thinking that came out of it.


The area of development that’s going to have an out-sized impact on how we live day to day?  In one word: bots.  A bot is a term used to describe any intelligent system (aka machine intelligence) that can work autonomously.  

There are lots of bots in use already.  We are making more at a furious rate (there a over 6,000 machine intelligence companies right now and growing) to accomplish almost anything and it won’t be long before we have trillions of bots (mostly in the cloud).

The upshot is that bots are going to automate much of what we consider valuable in industrial capitalism, just like industrial capitalism automated the (we went from spending 95% of our time earning our food to spending 5% in two centuries) precious agriculture of feudalism before it.

As far as I can tell, there are two ways these bots will emerge in their trillions (the vast majority of those will live in the cloud, attached to sensors/data/etc.).  One way is a system that will dominate and enslave the vast majority of us and the other has the potential to provide us with a way of life that is as close to an edenic revival as is possible in reality.

These two systems will likely become the source of the most bitter struggle for dominance we’ve ever experienced on this blue planet.  More bitter than the fight between statist systems (communism/fascism) and decentralized systems (democratic capitalism) in the last century.  

The negative system is based on turking (using people to do bot like work at subsistence levels) and using that turking to train up bot replacements as quickly as possible.  This negative system has the potential to employ billions of people doing the things that bots can’t do yet, and in so doing, training the bots that will replace them in a couple of months.  It’s pretty clear that this is an evolutionary endgame system.  A system that makes us look more like the other two globally dominant species on the planet – ants and termites.  

NOTE: Good early examples of negative systems include Uber (drivers as bot who will soon be replaced by bots) and Amazon (they actually have a mechanical turk service).

The other system is the one I hope will win. In this system, bots and bot ecosystems are built through creative collaboration via economic networks or tribes.   These networks take care fo the people willing and able to contribute to the development of different bot “families” (ecosystems of bots that focus on gardening, 3D fabrication, dispute resolution, medical care, etc.). The system scales through peering relationshps between different networks doing work in other areas.  


Really nice, short article that encompasses some of the same areas I have been writing – the battle between hierarchical authorities and distributed democracies; the use/abuse of technology; the ability of open, collaborative networks to route around damage; the push fto use technology to create subsistence wages, etc.

Learning how to build these networks, to find useful positive feedback loops to strengthen them, will be critical. Otherwise all we have to look forward to is being paid to act like bots, just like the original MechanicalTurk. Amazon and Uber already do this.

I think this is on the right track:

Here’s what I believe an economic network or tribe needs to have in order to provide the positive feedback required for growth:

  1. A way of inducting contributing members into the tribe (once you make a valid contribution you are in, for example)
  2. Sharing access to all designs/data on the network (and validating it by attaching it to a member so it’s not malware)
  3. Charging people outside of the network for use of the code/services (or establishing peering relationships with other networks doing the same thing in other areas) and
  4. Sharing the income derived from this network equally (with excess being used to fund projects that the members vote to fund).

What would a network like this look like from the inside? I suspect you’d get most of your self actualization from the networks you contribute to by teaching, training, and evolving bots to do incredibly useful stuff.

If we hope to not all become bots, turking for the very rich while barely surviving, we have to find ways for these small, resilient groups of people to succeed.

Working on that right now.