A Blog by Jonathan Low


Feb 21, 2020

To Understand the Future Of Work, Look At Transcription

Rather than replacing workers, technology is creating more jobs, but they are more routine - and far more likely to be poorly paid contract labor. JL 

Clive Thompson reports in Wired:

Demand for transcription has actually exploded in recent years. Why? Because audio is easier than ever to capture (via our pocket computers), so people are recording ever more meetings. Plus, video and podcasting have become the dominant forms of rhetoric. Daily communication is increasingly multimedia. But we still can't search the contents of video or audio well, so we need to transcribe it. Theoretically, exploding demand would drive up the price of labor. Except globalization and the gig business model exploded the supply of workers. AI doesnt always destroy jobs. Just makes them more likely to suck. 
Gabriel is a professional transcriber, and for years he earned a middle-class living. In the early 2000s he'd make up to $40 an hour transcribing corporate earnings calls. He'd sit at his desk, “knock it out” for hours using custom keystrokes, and watch the money roll in. “I sent my son to private schools and university on transcribing,” he tells me. “It was a nice life.” 
But in the past decade, the bottom fell out. As audio recordings went digital and broadband spread, clients could ship work to India and the Philippines. Meanwhile, buzzy Silicon Valley startups emerged—like Rev, a sort of Uber and 800-pound gorilla of the transcription world. It has moved the industry toward an on-demand gig model. Since Rev charged customers a flat rate of $1 per audio minute—less than half what transcription firms historically charged—Gabriel's pay sank even further. On top of it all, AI started nipping away at the industry, with machines now able to rapidly transcribe some audio as well as humans do.


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