Digitally decentralized labor, in simple terms, is when large tasks are broken into independent tasks — it’s the assembly line for the thought economy. With advances in smart contract technology, it may just be the future of work. Much like the far-reaching application of the assembly line in optimizing manufacturing processes, decentralized labor can be applied in a number of ways.
Google has relied on decentralized labor for more than a decade, and you’ve (probably, unwittingly) participated. When Google worked to digitize the archives of the New York Times and many books in the early-oughts, they ran into a major problem: their Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software was only 80% accurate and required some babysitting. For each page the company scanned, they were constantly tweaking the software to teach it to recognize new words, fonts, and variants.
In time, the company started working with reCAPTCHA to streamline their word recognition process. By asking individual internet users to identify a string of words before accessing their site, Google killed two birds with one stone: (a) they helped fight fraudulent traffic, and (b) they got real, live humans to train their software. You helped Google identify that smudged or ill-scanned word to help bolster their machine learning. Today, Google continues this practice with images to train its driverless car software.
The human contribution of this short and simple task unlocked tremendous value for Google and the website owner — and smart contracts enable the individual to get in on the action as well.
The Digital Assembly Line & Smart Contracts as a Manager
When problems can be factored into fungible work units, the organization can distribute those tasks to individuals and create a digital assembly line.
Given the correct framework, like HUMAN Protocol, smart contracts play middle-manager: offering an exchange where jobs can be bid on and accepted in a fair way, ensuring the successful completion of a task, evaluating and confirming quality, and managing compensation (which is especially important when managing micro-payments).
The first HUMAN Protocol application is hCaptcha, a CAPTCHA-like offering which performs similar bot-fighting and image-identifying functions, but also compensates the website host itself for their role in filling the top of the funnel. The company also plans an exchange where an individual can log in and perform these tasks.
Smart contract-based management represents not only a significant improvement over Amazon Mechanical Turk but also, perhaps, the future of work itself.