The trainer, the verifier, the imitator: Three ways in which human platform workers support artificial intelligence

Big Data and Society 7 (1) (2020)
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Abstract

This paper sheds light on the role of digital platform labour in the development of today’s artificial intelligence, predicated on data-intensive machine learning algorithms. Focus is on the specific ways in which outsourcing of data tasks to myriad ‘micro-workers’, recruited and managed through specialized platforms, powers virtual assistants, self-driving vehicles and connected objects. Using qualitative data from multiple sources, we show that micro-work performs a variety of functions, between three poles that we label, respectively, ‘artificial intelligence preparation’, ‘artificial intelligence verification’ and ‘artificial intelligence impersonation’. Because of the wide scope of application of micro-work, it is a structural component of contemporary artificial intelligence production processes – not an ephemeral form of support that may vanish once the technology reaches maturity stage. Through the lens of micro-work, we prefigure the policy implications of a future in which data technologies do not replace human workforce but imply its marginalization and precariousness.

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