Sarah O'Connor in the FT has a great piece on the "human cloud":
White-collar jobs are chopped into hundreds of discrete projects or tasks, then scattered into a virtual “cloud” of willing workers who could be anywhere in the world, so long as they have an internet connection.
A few diverse observations here:
1. The question: how far can this trend go? should be viewed through the prism of transactions costs. Coase famously showed (pdf) that firms - and therefore employees - exist because there are costs involved in market transactions, and employer-employee relationships reduced these costs.
The human cloud exists because the internet has reduced the costs of market transactions. It is now easy to find and hire someone to undertake a micro-job, and the use of ratings systems helps to solve the principal-agent problem: cloud workers are incentivized to do a good job by the desire to earn a good rating to make them attractive to subsequent hirers.
However, the obstacles to the development of the human cloud are that some costs of contracting out will remain. If a task cannot be divided from the bigger job, or if it requires constant tweaking and teamworking as job specs change, then there'll still be a place for employees.
How far the cloud can develop depends upon the precise nature of individual transactions, which will differ from firm to firm and job to job. It's not a matter of bigthink futurology.
2. This vindicates a point made by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew Mcafee in The Second Machine Age - that there can be a lag of many decades between the introduction of a technology and the full adoption of it. Just as it took years for firms to change to make best use of electricity, so it is only after 20 years that they are beginning to change to make full use of the internet.
3. This might contribute to the trend towards job polarization. It's low-level white collar jobs that are easiest - at first - to shift into the human cloud. This could create yet another obstacle to social mobility: it'll be harder to climb the jobs ladder if some rungs of it are missing.
4. If you no longer need to live near where you work, you'll no longer need to pay extortionate prices or rents in London but can instead live somewhere more affordable. Just as the opening of the Metropolitan line depressed house prices in central London, so too - eventually - might the human cloud.