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Alicia Morga

Alicia Morga

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How the Unskilled Will Inherit the Economy

Posted: 02/ 1/11 11:46 AM ET

In the labor market most make the distinction between skilled and unskilled workers. But these terms take on different meanings in the technology job market. What is skilled? In Silicon Valley, skilled normally refers to computer engineers or web developers -- those who architect, design or code. Unskilled workers are thought to be capable of only rote tasks and many of these so-called unskilled workers have been hit hardest by the economic recession.

Yet as many of the so called skilled jobs go overseas, it's time to take a look at what we consider unskilled. They might not be so unskilled after all.

According to Daniel Pink in his book A Whole New Mind, the emerging demand set in a more global economy will be something that is difficult for computers to do, namely: creativity. While computers can break down tasks into parts and make binary decisions, they continue to struggle with nuanced tasks or rather anything human. Computers have difficulty understanding irony, emoting, and really most things out of their box.

Creativity, per Mr. Pink, should therefore become the next currency with those who are most creative reaping the rewards. If you look at the many recent YouTube sensations who have gone on to fame and fortune, that's not so difficult to see. For example, Justin Bieber, a popular teen musician, was plucked from obscurity by Justin Timberlake and Usher after Mr. Bieber posted videos of himself singing on the website.

Taken even further, the artists of our nation, often the members of our society who exercise this skill on any regular basis, should finally be poised to cash in. Right? Not so fast.

Dr. Markus Strohmaier, Assistant Professor at Graz University of Technology and Visiting Scientist at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), recently demonstrated how the masses can be utilized to create. He decided to challenge the notion that the groups of people employed by crowdsourcing companies like Mechanical Turk and CrowdFlower can only do rote tasks by structuring a task requiring them to be creative.

He assigned an acrostic -- a poem in which the first letter or word of each line spells out a word or message. You can read about his task design and see the result here.

The poem was written completely by the collaborative efforts of Mechanical Turks. He paid $1.80 USD for the result.

A price that suggests "unskilled" workers completed the task. It seems everyone, artist or not, holds the currency of creativity. So it may not be those that are creative but rather those who can solicit it that win.

 
 
 

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