[BIG ANNOUNCEMENT] New Edition of “Waiting for Robots” (out Fall 2024 in the US)

The journey from En attendans les robots, which I published in 2019 in French (and was republished in pocket edition in 2021) to its much-anticipated English incarnation, Waiting for Robots: The Hired Hands of Automation (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming, 2024), captures a global conversation that’s more relevant than ever. Originally published in France and subsequently embraced by readers in Italy, Arabic- and Spanish-speaking countries, and soon Greece, this book focuses on the concealed workforce that makes automation possible across the globe.

What sets this upcoming edition apart is its comprehensive update, which deals with the working conditions of the “data trainers” behind ChatGPT, examines the seismic shifts in platformization and remote work trends exacerbated by the pandemic, and critically analyzes high-profile missteps in the tech industry, such as Uber’s self-driving car debacle.

At its core, Waiting for Robots: The Hired Hands of Automation is a critical exploration of the promises and pitfalls of machine learning and AI systems. Far from the utopian visions or dystopian fears often equally portrayed in the media, I present a grounded analysis of how businesses sell robots to their investors, while hiring underpaid (or unpaid) digital laborers to brute-force their way into automation. By leveraging several years of empirical research conducted with my research team DiPLab and enriched by the vibrant exchanges among the researchers, activists, and policymakers surrounding the International Network on Digital Labor (INDL) this new edition illuminates the often opaque decisions companies make, when they choose to outsource rather than automate, revealing a world where technology and human work are deeply intertwined, often in disturbing ways.

Read more: [BIG ANNOUNCEMENT] New Edition of “Waiting for Robots” (out Fall 2024 in the US)

[Taken from the publisher’s presentation]

Waiting for Robots

Antonio A. Casilli

The Hired Hands of Automation

With a Foreword by Sarah T. Roberts
Translated by Saskia Brown

An essential investigation that reveals the labor of human workers hidden behind a curtain of apparent technological automation.

Artificial Intelligence fuels both enthusiasm and panic. Technologists are inclined to give their creations leeway, pretend they’re animated beings, and consider them efficient. As users, we may complain when these technologies don’t obey, or worry about their influence on our choices and our livelihoods. And yet, we also yearn for their convenience, see ourselves reflected in them, and treat them as something entirely new. But when we overestimate the automation of these tools, award-winning author Antonio A. Casilli argues, we fail to recognize how our fellow humans are essential to their efficiency. The danger is not that robots will take our jobs, but that humans will have to do theirs.

In this bracing and powerful book, Casilli uses up-to-the-minute research to show how today’s technologies, including AI, continue to exploit human labor—even ours. He connects the diverse activities of today’s tech laborers: platform workers, like Uber drivers and Airbnb hosts; “micro workers,” including those performing atomized tasks like data entry on Amazon Mechanical Turk; and the rest of us, as we evaluate text or images to show we’re not robots, react to Facebook posts, or approve or improve the output of generative AI. As Casilli shows us, algorithms, search engines, and voice assistants wouldn’t function without unpaid or underpaid human contributions. Further, he warns that if we fail to recognize this human work, we risk a dark future for all human labor.

Waiting for Robots urges us to move beyond the simplistic notion that machines are intelligent and autonomous. As the proverbial Godot, robots are the bearers of a messianic promise that is always postponed. Instead of bringing prosperity for all, they discipline the workforce, so we don’t dream of a world without drudgery and exploitation. Casilli’s eye-opening book makes clear that most “automation” requires human labor—and likely always will—shedding new light on today’s consequences and tomorrow’s threats of failing to recognize and compensate the “click workers” of today.