ChatGPT’s Contract Workers: The Untold Story of Hidden Army

K. C. Sabreena Basheer 11 May, 2023
3 min read

Artificial intelligence (AI) has become increasingly popular in recent years. From voice assistants to chatbots, AI-powered technology is becoming a ubiquitous presence in our lives. However, what most people don’t know is that there is a hidden army of contract workers behind the scenes in developing platforms like OpenAI’s ChatGPT. These contract workers are responsible for training AI systems on how to analyze data so they can generate text and images.

There is an army of underpaid and ill-treated contract workers behind the training of AI platforms like OpenAI's ChatGPT.

Alexej Savreux, a 34-year-old from Kansas City, is one such worker. He works as an artificial intelligence trainer for ChatGPT, a language model developed by OpenAI. In an interview with NBC News, Savreux spoke about the work he does and the vital role played by contract workers in the development of AI systems.

The Work of an AI Trainer

To improve the accuracy of AI, Savreux and other trainers have labeled photos and made predictions about what text the apps should generate next. This feedback fills an urgent and endless need for the company and its AI competitors: providing streams of sentences, labels, and other information that serve as training data.

Underpaid and ill-treated contract workers train artificial intelligence on text and image recognition.

“We are grunt workers, but there would be no AI language systems without it,” said Savreux. “You can design all the neural networks you want, and you can get all the researchers involved you want, but without labelers, you have no ChatGPT. You have nothing.”

The Importance of Contract Workers

Savreux is part of a large workforce of contract workers who have been doing the behind-the-scenes labor of teaching AI systems. They are responsible for providing the data that these systems need to function properly. Despite their importance, companies like OpenAI often tend to overlook and undervalue these workers.

Partnership on AI is a nonprofit based in San Francisco that promotes research and education around artificial intelligence. Sonam Jindal, the program lead for AI, labor, and the economy at the nonprofit, says, “A lot of the discourse around AI is very congratulatory, But we’re missing a big part of the story: that this is still hugely reliant on a large human workforce.”

The entire foundation of AI training depends on contract workers who aren't given the pay or respect they deserve.

The Challenges Faced by Contract Workers

Contract workers are often paid low wages with no benefits. They face job insecurity and have little to no job protection. The Partnership on AI warned in a 2021 report that a spike in demand was coming for what it called “data enrichment work.” It recommended that the industry commits to fair compensation and other improved practices, and last year it published voluntary guidelines for companies to follow.

Money-minded companies like OpenAI exploit the labourforce to train their apps and platforms like ChatGPT.

DeepMind, an AI subsidiary of Google, is so far the only tech company to publicly commit to those guidelines. There is still, however, a lot to be done to ensure that contract workers are fairly compensated for their contributions.

The Future of Contract Work in AI

There’s no definitive tally of how many contractors work for AI companies, but it’s an increasingly common form of work around the world. Time magazine reported in January that OpenAI relied on low-wage Kenyan laborers to label text that included hate speech or sexually abusive language so that its apps, like ChatGPT, could do better at recognizing toxic content on their own.

As AI continues to grow and evolve, it’s likely that the demand for contract workers will continue to rise. However, it’s important that companies take steps to ensure that these workers are treated fairly and with respect. Contract work doesn’t have to be exploitative, and if done right, it can provide a valuable source of income for workers around the world.

Our Say

The development of AI has been one of the most exciting technological advancements of recent years. However, it’s important to remember that behind every great AI system, there is a team of hardworking contract workers who make it all possible. Moving into the future, it’s essential that we recognize the vital role played by these workers and take steps to ensure their fair treatment. By doing so, we can create a more just and equitable society where everyone has the chance to thrive.

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