Next week Spain will start enforcing its new law on gig workers. This is one of the novelties of the regulation:
The legal representation of the workers must be informed of the rules contained in the algorithms and artificial intelligence systems that can affect the working conditions by which the platforms are governed.
What does it mean?
Let’s take the example of food delivery. If you’re ordering food you care about how long it will take to get to your doorstep. If you’re the courier delivering the food, you want to make money without rushing like a sprinter. The companies that connect the two want happy eaters and fast couriers (paying them as little as possible). Algorithms orchestrate this system.
You can imagine who gets screwed in the process. Computer code allocates work, monitors workers' performance, and decides their pay. But computers are programmed to make the interests of the company and the customers, not the couriers'. This is why when gig workers feel mistreated, they often blame algorithms.
We can’t assess whether they’re right because what you’ve read above are just assumptions. No one outside of these tech companies knows exactly how their algorithms work.
Tech companies have never been clear about their algorithms. This means that the people affected by them had to make their own guesses on how to get more work.
Tech companies always thought that not being transparent was ethical, and you can agree with them or not. The point is that now it’s illegal, so it doesn’t matter what you or tech companies think: workers need to understand how these algorithms work.
The challenge is: how much do tech companies have to explain, and how will they do it?
We’re now at one extreme of the spectrum: gig workers know nothing. The other side is that gig workers get a Ph.D. in computer science and get access to the source code.
I don’t need to say that the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle.
Finding that sweet spot and executing on it is not trivial, especially because tech companies never cared. Their engineers have been talking to other engineers, and never had to explain their work to anyone else.
I spent years trying to make it easy for everyone to learn about technology, and I can say it’s not an easy task.
I can guarantee that it’s worth it though. Trusting customers are good for business. Transparency and education are the tools to build this trust.
So if your company is investing in technology, I’d recommend starting investing in how you talk about it as well. Your success is tied both to how good your tech is, and how well people understand it. It won’t be a simple journey, but I hope you’ll embrace it, and I wish you good luck.
Let me know if you need help.