The Shipt Calculator: Worker-Led Audits of Black-Box Algorithms

Date and Time: session times coming soon!

Location: Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center
Livestream: Free for EPIC Members

Presented by:

Danny Spitzberg, Visiting Researcher, Georgia Tech

As AI systems and black-box algorithms direct ridehail and delivery work, imagine if we worked for users, not companies. This is a video is a case study of that possibility. As the pandemic began in 2020, Shipt workers partnered with an academic researcher and nonprofits to independently evaluate a new black-box algorithm. They designed an SMS chat bot to collect and analyze 200 worker’s pay histories, showing a 40% pay cut and fueling a campaign that made headlines. The lesson: researchers can partner with and work for workers who are most effected by automated systems.

The Shipt Calculator project is a worker-led organizing and research collaboration. It was initiated by Willy Solis (Lead Organizer at Gig Workers Collective), with support from Drew Ambrogi (Digital Organizer at, Dan Calacci (PhD student at MIT), and Vanessa Bain (Co-founder of Gig Workers Collective), with input and feedback from over 600 Shipt shoppers across the USA.

The film was initiated by Danny Spitzberg (former Lead Researcher at Turning Basin Labs, cofounder of The Workers’ Algorithm Observatory) in collaboration with Willy, Drew, and Dan. The film was shot, edited, and produced by Donald Borenstein (independent filmmaker) and Jimmy Day (video producer at MIT), with narrative support from Barry Lam (Professor of Philosophy, Vassar College). It was funded by the inaugural ACM FAccT 2022 Community Keynote program coordinated by Seth Lazar (Professor of Philosophy at the Australian National University).

Danny Spitzberg is a sociologist and UX researcher in Oakland, California. He is lead author for the POWER Act study on work and ownership for the state of California, and UX Researcher for The Workers’ Algorithm Observatory, a community science clinic to audit black-box algorithms and AI systems. Most recently, he was Lead Researcher at Turning Basin Labs, a staffing co-op, where he trained teams of first-time researchers to collect, analyze, and decide how to use their own data and stories.