AI 'ghost' staff: US lawmakers probe Amazon, Alphabet, Microsoft, Meta

Along with the established tech giants, the letter's recipients include the newer AI-focused firms OpenAI, Inflection AI, Scale AI and Anthropic

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Democratic lawmakers are pressing the top tech firms to open up about the conditions of their “ghost work” — unseen labourers like those labelling data and rating responses who have become pivotal to the artificial intelligence boom.

“Despite the essential nature of this work, millions of data workers around the world perform these stressful tasks under constant surveillance, with low wages and no benefits,” a group of lawmakers led by Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey and Washington Representative Pramila Jayapal wrote Wednesday in a letter to the chief executives of nine companies, including, Alphabet, Meta Platforms, Microsoft, and International Business Machines.

“Workers are expected to screen out dangerous chatbot answers, but they may have little time to assess an answer’s safety,” they added. “Data workers are often given scant training or supervision, which can result in the introduction of bias.”

The lawmakers ask the executives to answer extensive questions about their data workforces, including about their ability to take breaks, appeal suspensions or access mental health resources when facing traumatising content. “Tech companies must not build AI on the backs of exploited workers,” write the Democrats, including Massachusetts Senator and former presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren. 

Along with the established tech giants, the letter’s recipients include the newer AI-focused firms OpenAI, Inflection AI, Scale AI and Anthropic.  

To develop AI products, US companies rely extensively on sub-contracted staff, located domestically or abroad, who are hired via outside staffing firms and often lack the benefits provided to firms’ own direct employees. Companies also rely on such work for other burdensome tasks, such as content moderation and product quality assurance.
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First Published: Sep 14 2023 | 12:08 PM IST

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