BIS Seminar: Professor Rob Fichman
Are On-Demand “Gig” Platforms the Fourth Horseman of the Job Apocalypse? Measurement Challenges and a Research Agenda
Four waves of technology-driven occupational change are flowing through developed economies, due to the rise of four phenomena: traditional computer automation (aimed at routine tasks), offshoring, AI-infused automation (aimed at non-routine tasks), and on-demand platforms for “gig” work (platform-mediated freelancing). These occupational disruptors* are creating much anxiety among domestic workers about the potential for large and persistent job losses, as tasks previously performed by regular full-time employees are given to computers, moved offshore, or shifted to on-demand freelancers.
To understand how much of this anxiety is justified—and thereby inform appropriate policy actions—we need to know what portion of work life is actually vulnerable to each disruptor. Building on prior efforts to quantify the susceptibility of different occupations to the first three disruptors—such as by Autor 2003 (traditional automation), Blinder 2009 (offshoring), and Frey and Osborne 2013 (AI-infused automation)—we propose a set of measures to do the same for the fourth disruptor: on-demand platforms for freelance labor (such as UpWork).
We begin with a brief summary of what we know and don’t know about these four disruptors, including their actual—and potential—effects on employment. We also survey and critique proposed measures for three of these disruptors in order to surface the difficult tradeoffs that exist among alternative measurement strategies. Next, we turn our attention to the remaining disruptor, and propose a set of criteria for judging the suitability of an occupation for on-demand freelancing. We also offer a measurement strategy based on these criteria. Finally, we present some ideas for how measures of the suitability of tasks and occupations for platform-mediated freelancing could be incorporated into research on the future of work.
*To qualify as a disruptor, a driver of occupational change must involve a radically different approach to completing work tasks, that, while initially inferior and appealing only to underserved labor needs, may eventually rival the quality of traditional approaches.
Dr. Rob Fichman is Professor and IS Department Chair in the Carroll School of Management, Boston College. He received BS and MS degrees in Industrial and Operations Engineering from the University of Michigan (1982, 1983) and a Ph.D. from the MIT Sloan School of Management (1995). His main research interests concern digital innovation, including the factors affecting the diffusion and assimilation of new IT, and the transformative effects that digital innovations have on individuals, organizations, markets, and society. He has published broadly on these topics in Communications of the ACM, California Management Review, Decision Sciences Journal, IEEE Computer, Harvard Business Review, Information Systems Research, Journal of the Association of Information Systems, Management Science, MIS Quarterly, Sloan Management Review and other scholarly journals. Dr. Fichman currently serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Management Information Systems. He has also served as Senior Editor at Information Systems Research and Journal of the Association of Information Systems, and Associate Editor at Management Science and MISQ.