AI innovation for whom, and at whose expense?

This fantastic article by Williams, Miceli and Gebru, describes how the methodological shift of AI systems to deep-learning-based models has required enormous amounts of “data” for models to learn from. Large volumes of time-consuming work, such as labelling millions of images, can now be broken down into smaller tasks and outsourced to data labourers across the globe. These data labourers have terribly low wagen, often working in dire working conditions.

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Whitewashing call centre workers’ accents

Silicon Valley strikes again, with yet another techno-solutionist idea. Sanas, a speech technology startup founded by three former Stanford students, aims to alter the accents of call centre workers situated in countries such as India and the Philippines. The goal is to make them sound white and American. With a slide of a button, a call centre’s voice will be transformed into a slightly robotic, and unmistakeably white, American voice.

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Racist Technology in Action: How hiring tools can be sexist and racist

One of the classic examples of how AI systems can reinforce social injustice is Amazon’s A.I. hiring tool. In 2014, Amazon built an ´A.I. powered´ tool to assess resumes and recommend the top candidates that would go on to be interviewed. However, the tool turned out to be very biased, systematically preferring men over women.

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Exploited and silenced: Meta’s Black whistleblower in Nairobi

In 2019, a Facebook content moderator in Nairobi, Daniel Motaung, who was paid USD 2.20 per hour, was fired. He was working for one of Meta’s largest outsourcing partners in Africa, Sama, which brands itself as an “ethical AI” outsourcing company, and is headquartered in California. Motaung led a unionisation attempt with more than 100 colleagues, fighting for better wages and working conditions.

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Don’t miss this 4-part journalism series on ‘AI Colonialism’

The MIT Technology Review has written a four-part series on how the impact of AI is “repeating the patterns of colonial history.” The Review is careful not to directly compare the current situation with the colonialist capturing of land, extraction of resources, and exploitation of people. Yet, they clearly show that AI does further enrich the wealthy at the tremendous expense of the poor.

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Exploitative labour is central to the infrastructure of AI

In this piece, Julian Posada writes about a family of five in Venezuela, who synchronise their routines so that there will always be two people at the computer working for a crowdsourcing platform to make a living. They earn a few cents per task in a cryptocurrency and are only allowed to cash out once they’ve made at least the equivalent of USD 10. On average they earn about USD 20 per week, but their earnings can be erratic, resulting in extreme stress and precarity.

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Transformative Justice and Knowledge Production in Tech

Techno-capitalism is re-negotiating the social contract but knowledge about technologies is too often sequestered behind the lock doors of industry. Black women researchers like Dr. Timnit Gebru who raised alarm about the racial and ecological implications of emergent technologies are systematically silenced and forced out. Additionally, corporate capture of academic departments has even further limited the space to do critical research. Given these obstacles, how can researchers both inside and outside of tech companies do the difficult work of research, critique, and resistance? When individualist opportunism is the guiding norm of knowledge production, how do we cultivate a practice of transformative justice in the context of tech research? What are the set of tools and collective histories Black people in the Americas and the Black global diaspora can draw on in order to care for each other in the process of producing research about tech?

By Safiya Noble and Timnit Gebru for YouTube on March 31, 2022

Big Tech is propped up by a globally exploited workforce

Behind the promise of automation, advances of machine learning and AI, often paraded by tech companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook and Tesla, lies a deeply exploitative industry of cheap, human labour. In an excerpt published on Rest of the World from his forthcoming book, “Work Without the Worker: Labour in the Age of Platform Capitalism,” Phil Jones illustrates how the hidden labour of automation is outsourced to marginalised, racialised and disenfranchised populations within the Global North, as well as in the Global South.

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