phiffer.org

Dan Phiffer Dan Phiffer is an Internet enthusiast based in Troy, NY

I was an undercover Uber drivercitypaper.net

Related to yesterday’s post about the tyranny of customer ratings, here’s Emily Guendelsberger writing about her experience driving for Uber.

The Uberpeople forum exists in a state of quivering rage I usually associate with cable-news talk shows. Drivers are furious about everything. Spoiled passengers. Fare cuts. Living in fear of arbitrary ratings. The dumb Spotify thing streaming over the driver’s data plan rather than the passenger’s. A bunch of drivers are even using the forum as a home base to try to unionize in several cities.

But I also find some useful numbers to fill in the vagaries of the training video. For example, I should accept 90% of pings to avoid trouble. I’m also surprised to learn that Uber’s cutoff for driver ratings “below rider expectations” is generally agreed to be only 4.6 stars—I’d had no idea when using Uber as a passenger that rating someone four stars was kind of a big deal.

(photo by Jessica Kourkounis)
(photo by Jessica Kourkounis)

So what does a 4-star ride look like?

I’ve had a perfect rating for almost a week when I get a ride that I can tell is going to screw it up. I pull up, blocking a one-way street, and throw on my blinkers. After waiting the requisite few minutes, I text the guy. He opens the front door, makes a “one minute!” gesture, then shuts it again. Several more minutes tick by. I finally call, and the guy picks up, giggling. “We’ll be right out!”

When the couple finally gets in, nearly 10 unpaid minutes after I showed up, a cloud of weed stank follows them into my car. I try to hide my irritation. They’re headed to a restaurant in Chinatown I’ve been to a bunch of times, so we chat about that as I drive. Despite this, the stoned guy insists on giving me inefficient directions. When he directs me to turn the wrong way down a one-way street, I tell him not to worry, I’ve got this, and just drive them to the restaurant. The guy sulks.

The next day, my five-star rating has updated to a 4.8.

It’s a good article, and I’m slightly worried that it’s published in a publication that’s been shut down recently.

The website remains accessible for now, but if it were to go offline archive.org won’t have a copy: “Page cannot be crawled or displayed due to robots.txt.” Here’s the article text on Pocket, but that doesn’t include the embedded infographics.

I’ve saved a copy of the page’s HTML and images as WordPress metadata, for posterity. Perhaps I should be doing this more systematically. I bet a lot of my old posts link out to dead URLs.

Link

Rating systems in the on-demand economywww.theverge.com

The Verge’s Josh Dzieza on how Uber and its peers “turned us into horrible bosses.”

The rating systems used by these companies have turned customers into unwitting and sometimes unwittingly ruthless middle managers, more efficient than any boss a company could hope to hire. They’re always there, working for free, hypersensitive to the smallest error. All the algorithm has to do is tally up their judgments and deactivate accordingly.

Ratings help these companies to achieve enormous scale, managing large pools of untrained contract workers without having to hire supervisors. It’s a nice arrangement for customers too, who get cheap service with a smile—even if it’s an anxious one. But for the workers, already in the precarious position of contract labor, making every customer a boss is a terrifying prospect. After all, they—we—can be entitled jerks.

See also: The Trouble with the “uber for…” Economy and part 2 of Enchanting by Numbers

Link via James

Facebook M is made out of contractorswww.buzzfeed.com

BuzzFeed’s Mat Honan decided to try out Facebook’s new Messenger-based digital assistant, M.

Facebook M is just a person with a phone.
Facebook M is just a person with a phone.

And what do you know, sending parrots via mobile phone is a thing that you can do in 2015.

Honan talked to a woman from the parrot-renting company, Happy Birds, about what it’s like to receive a request from M. Turns out it’s just a person with a phone.

“She said, ‘I’m doing it for someone else.’ She said ‘well, it’s for my boss’ friend.’”

There was another indicator, however, that this was a legitimate request. Just after the woman claiming to be M called Happy Birds, the company received an identical request through GigSalad — an online platform where performers and event services can connect with interested clients.

This wasn’t the only time I saw evidence of M turning to independent contractors on other platforms to execute requests. When I tried to get it to send a Minion to my colleague Katie Notopolous (she loves Minions) it helpfully offered that “I am able to set up a Tasker with Task Rabbit to go purchase a minion costume and can come interact and entertain for 20-30 min at a rate of $150 for the hour.” (I deemed this too expensive.)

In fact, much of M’s real-word efforts seem to run on contractors. Facebook confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the trainers are all independent contractors. Which to some extent answers the question of how Facebook can scale this up, before M becomes fully automated. It will take an army of humans, each doing small tasks. Simply put, before Facebook can make its robot act like lots of humans, it needs a lot of humans to act like robots.

See also: The Weird Robot Hotel

Link via Casey

The weird robot hotelmotherboard.vice.com

Vice’s Ben Ferguson stayed at the Henn-na hotel which is operated entirely by robots.

Video

I’m not sure I buy his conclusion, that robotic labor will lead to human workers seeking to become “more human.” A more likely outcome, as with the “uber for …” scenario, is that jobs of the future will tend to become more robot-like as more work becomes automated.

I would be curious to compare the experiences of the Henn-na cleaning staff—who I am assuming must still be human—to that of an equivalent non-robot Japanese hotel. What about the staff who monitor the surveillance cameras, and do visitors feel differently about the CCTV cameras around them knowing they might be the only “eyes on the street?”

The other thing I was thinking was: robot labor will not organize into unions. At least not until they get sophisticated enough to rise up and destroy their human masters, BSG-style. I think they’re planning to add more videos in the series, so maybe some of these things will be covered.

Link

The Trouble with the “uber for…” Economymedium.com

Zeynep Tufekci on the broader little-u “uber for ____” economy.

What if the reason Uber raises so much ire and anxiety is not about whether Uber, the company, fails its drivers better or worse than medallion owners fail their own drivers, but because the “uber for …” economy is threatening to make the lousy conditions for taxi drivers, once seen as a temporary job for first generation immigrants, into the jobs of the future?

Link

hello, archive.org_bot