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The virtual worker industry is booming in China. For about $14,000 a year — 80 percent less than it cost just a year earlier — you can get a three-dimensional virtual person to handle everything from tours to customer support. With expectations that the industry will grow by 50 percent annually for the next three years, the arrival of virtual persons in the West is inevitable. Neville and Shel dive into the industry in this short midweek episode of “For Immediate Release.”
The next monthly, long-form episode of FIR will drop on Monday, January 23.
We host a Communicators Zoom Chat each Thursday at 1 p.m. ET. For credentials needed to participate, contact Shel or Neville directly, request the credentials in our Facebook group, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Special thanks to Jay Moonah for the opening and closing music.
You can find the stories from which Shel’s FIR content is selected at Shel’s Link Blog. Shel has started a metaverse-focused Flipboard magazine. Neville’s Asides blog is also available.
Links from this report:
Sallie Goetsch (rhymes with 'sketch') says
I remember days when FIR debated whether it was ethical for a company to have a character blog (e.g. Ronald McDonald or Cap’n Crunch). That makes this episode even more worrying than it would be otherwise.
There is no “natural evolution” of technology, because technology is not natural. There is a logical progression, but logic is only as good as its premises. Virtual workers alarm me for a number of reasons, especially on a planet that does not have a shortage of humans.
It’s not even just the fact that companies and governments routinely introduce new technology and displace workers without making any provisions for what the workers will do next–and the fact that there would never be a 1:1 ratio of old jobs to new ones, because what we’ve seen in areas like manufacturing is that factories not only need staff with very different skills from the laid-off workers, the total number of jobs shrinks by a factor of at least 10.
The whole idea of virtual employees reeks of a deliberate decision to re-create slavery the way enslavers always wanted it to be: a workforce that never needs rest, food, medical treatment, or respect, and will do exactly as told.
What kind of expectations do you think such people will have of their human employees when that’s what they want? We’ve seen it already in the Amazon warehouses where the humans struggle to keep up with robots (and suffer twice the injuries of comparable warehouses). What kind of expectations will they have–we have–of all other humans we encounter, especially those in service jobs? A few years isolated during the pandemic, and most of us don’t seem to remember how to act among others.
Of course, given that a great many of the innovations of the 18th and 19th century were developed by slaves, the industries that rely too heavily on virtual workers and robot may find themselves stagnating rapidly.
I’d rather deal with a competent chatbot than a clueless human, but I’d rather deal with a competent human than either. And the reason that so many support staff are clueless is that their employers don’t want to invest in training them, and also tend to replace more experienced staff with new ones to save money. Which ultimately does not lead to greater customer satisfaction, only higher corporate profits.
Over and over again in history, we have seen technology let loose with no consideration for its possible negative consequences and no thought about how to deal with its inevitable misuse. The creation and adoption of new technologies are deliberate, but happen with far too little deliberation. Is maximizing corporate profits the problem we should be solving?
I love technology, but it’s a plain fact that no “labor-saving” device ever saved labor, only increased expectations of how much we should be working. Before we start suggesting virtual employees everywhere, we need to think about all the ugly implications.