The crap jobs of tomorrow

Paul Raven @ 20-07-2010

Via BoingBoing, the New York Times looks at a new breed of grim bottom-end employment in the digital age: Internet Content Reviewing. Main responsibilities include trawling through an endless river of text, images and video to ensure the removal of offensive content… and if you’ve more than a passing moment hanging out on the intertubes, you’ll have some idea of just how nasty some of that content might be.

With the rise of Web sites built around material submitted by users, screeners have never been in greater demand. Some Internet firms have tried to get by with software that scans photos for, say, a large area of flesh tones, but nothing is a substitute for a discerning human eye.

The surge in Internet screening services has brought a growing awareness that the jobs can have mental health consequences for the reviewers, some of whom are drawn to the low-paying work by the simple prospect of making money while looking at pornography.

[…]

David Graham, president of Telecommunications On Demand, the company near Orlando where Mr. Bess works, compared the reviewers to “combat veterans, completely desensitized to all kinds of imagery.” The company’s roughly 50 workers view a combined average of 20 million photos a week.

The compensation isn’t exactly awesome, either: wages peak out at US$12 per hour, and that’ll fall rapidly once someone gets a reliable outsource operation up and running. At least if you’re a sewer worker you can wash the stench off when you get home.

Leaving aside the extremity of the case in hand, though, it’s worth noting that this is essentially a gatekeeper/curation task – and we’ve already noted that curation is a growth industry thanks to the geometric expansion of content. Augmented reality will provide a whole new environment for this sort of work in the next few years… though I doubt the prospect of working outdoors will do much to ameliorate the essential unpleasantness and tedium of the task.

What other new (and shitty) jobs might our bright digital future provide?


Over-the-counter genetic testing kits at your local drugstore

Paul Raven @ 12-05-2010

As of this Friday, Walgreens customers in the US will be able to purchase a home-use genetic testing kit for US$30 or less… though access to the results (via the Pathway Genomics website) could cost another $200 or more, depending on what the user wants to know [via MetaFilter].

Though mail-order DNA tests have been available over the Internet since 2007, Pathway Genomic’s new campaign brings the personalized genomics market to a neighborhood near you, hopefully lending an air of trust and familiarity to the practice, says vice president of marketing at the company, Chris D’Eon.

“People trust their pharmacy and their pharmacist,” he says. “The world is moving towards a preventive health society and working with Walgreens is a huge opportunity to market [personalized genetic screening] to more people, faster.”

[…]

Customers who purchase Pathway Genomics’ “Insight Saliva Collection Kit” will collect their samples at home and return them (a postage-paid box is included) to the company. From there, all other steps are online. Customers need to buy the actual tests on their DNA separately and will receive their reports in about eight weeks via e-mail.

A report on how you will respond to drugs like statins or Tamoxifen runs $79. A pre-pregnancy planning report, which provides information on your baby’s risk for genetic disorders, is $179, and a comprehensive test, including your personal risk on a number of diseases, is $249.

People with important job titles are not impressed:

“This is a horrible idea,” says Dr. Michael Grodin, professor of bioethics, human rights, family medicine and psychiatry at Boston University. “Genetic testing is a complex, difficult and emotionally laden medical process which requires extensive counseling, contextualization and interpretation.”

Lee Vermeulen, director for the Center for Drug Policy at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics, agrees, calling the test “reckless and inappropriate.”

“Regardless of whether they are told they are at low or high risk, the impact on their future behaviors will be affected substantially and inappropriately,” he says.

A high-risk result may alarm the consumer needlessly, doctors say, and a low-risk one may provide a false sense of security, lulling consumers to pay less attention to their health habits and skip preventive medical screenings.

Doctors also said genetic factors can only explain a portion of disease risk, and were concerned that customers getting a genetic “clean bill of health” would mistakenly think they were in the clear.

I’d be the first to say that you should have access to your own genetic code-base, but given the general public’s incredible susceptibility to quackery, oversimplification and medical mythinformation, getting any genuine use from it will remain the province of the highly-trained, while the fast money will be found in giving people the interpretations they most want to hear (or already fear to be true). The Food & Drug Administration is looking into the Pathway kits (which have allegedly never been approved by them for sale to the general public), but I think we can assume Pandora’s box to have been irrevocably opened at this point.

Or perhaps I’m being overly cynical again – might consumer-level genetic testing, combined with the internet’s open access to vast swathes of medical data, actually help us become healthier?


Consumer DNA screening is here; what happens next?

Paul Raven @ 21-07-2009

digital rendering of DNAI’ve recommended Jan Chipchase’s Future Perfect blog before as a great source for near-future speculation with a street-level twist, and it looks like it’s time I did so again. Chipchase has just purchased one of the $99 DNA testing kits from 23andme, inspiring the following thoughts:

With an increasing number of medical and judicial proceedings pulling on DNA data and a continious trickle of whose-the-father paternity testing DNA is slowly but surely moving mainstream. Who’ll be the first to take individual’s DNA data and mash it up with dating profiles? Nature versus nurture? Bring on the hucksters.

The rise in adoption/use of DNA is particularly interesting because it affects people, families deeply and retrospectively. Your dad for the last 40 years? He’s not, y’know. (For source stats head over to Measuring paternal discrepancy and its public health consequences by Mark A Bellis et al. – they cite ~0.8% to 30% paternal discrepancy, median 3.7%)

Roll forward 20 years when you can obtain a DNA test for the cost of a packet of gum – hell, it might even come in the form of a stick of ‘DNA Brand’ gum where the consumer is encouraged to spit out and stick after use.

Can you think of any Gibsonian street uses for ubiquitous affordable DNA testing? [image by ynse]


Are “designer baby” fears actually prolonging children’s suffering?

Paul Raven @ 23-03-2009

baby feetMedia hysteria about “designer babies” maintains ethical pressure on IVF genetic screening techniques and keeps them from becoming more widely used. Michael Le Page at New Scientist suggests IVF-PGD should in fact be mandatory, comparing a refusal to use the technique to the actions of parents who refuse medical treatment for their child on religious grounds:

We now have the ability to ensure that children are born free of any one of hundreds of serious genetic disorders, from cystic fibrosis to early-onset cancers. But children continue to be born with these diseases.

All would-be parents should be offered screening to alert them to any genetic disorders they risk passing on to their children. Those at risk should then be offered IVF with pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (IVF-PGD) to ensure any children are healthy.

Why isn’t it happening? Because most people still regard attempts to influence which genes our children inherit as taboo.

He goes on to point out that IVF-PGD can’t be used for ‘designing’ a child, and takes the view that if every life is a gamble, screening for inheritable diseases is a way of stacking the deck in your favour… and in the child’s.

Of course, that view is contrary to the “pro-life” philosophy, but even someone more moderate than that might see Le Page’s approach as callous. And there’s the argument that it’s immoral to attempt to eradicate disability entirely; remember the deaf couples who use genetic screening to select in favour of a child with deafness? [image by lepiaf.geo]

What do you think – should we use science to engineer away our physical defects before they happen, or to make life as comfortable as possible for those afflicted with them?