New research from Veena Dubal, a law professor at the University of California Hastings, highlights the potential dangers of companies using artificial intelligence (AI) to set wages for gig workers. Dubal’s study was conducted over six years and involved thousands of interviews with gig economy workers, specifically those who worked for companies such as Uber and Lyft. She found that companies such as Amazon and Uber have access to “massive data sets” on contract workers that they can use to “calculate the exact wage rates necessary to incentivize desired behaviors.” Dubal refers to this practice as “algorithmic wage discrimination.”
Dubal’s research revealed that workers in the gig economy are being paid different amounts for the same work, often based on algorithms that predict the likelihood of workers accepting different rates. For example, a food delivery driver could be offered a lower rate than another driver, simply because the algorithm predicts that the first driver would be more likely to accept it.
Dubal describes the use of such algorithms as the “gamblification of work,” and argues that this practice could extend to other sectors beyond the gig economy. She calls for a ban on using algorithms and AI to set wages and urges lawmakers and regulators to pay closer attention to the issue.
Dubal’s research has already had an impact, as her findings were cited by the California Labor Commission in a lawsuit against Uber and Lyft. The commission claimed that the companies owed drivers a combined $1.3 billion in payments for their hours worked, and the lawsuits are still ongoing.
As companies continue to incorporate AI technologies in their operations, Dubal’s study raises important questions about the potential for algorithmic wage discrimination to seep into other sectors, beyond the gig economy. It highlights the need for greater scrutiny and regulation to ensure that workers are not subject to unfair practices that exploit their labor.