Rightly or wrongly, the AI-driven world has come to typify the woes of modern economic life, as tech giants such as Facebook and Alphabet amass vast fortunes, due in large part to the huge quantities of data that users often freely provide them.
Accusations of economic imbalance tend to be multi-faceted. Not only do these companies typically employ fewer people than the industrial titans of yore, but they also attract the ire of officials over their tax practices and have grown insanely rich off the back of something users receive no compensation for.
It’s helped to create a world in which the haves are increasingly well off, while the have nots make do with insecure and poorly paid work. Nowhere is this exchange more evident than in the data annotation industry, where people from around the world help to prepare and tidy up the data used by the tech giants to train the algorithms upon which their fortunes increasingly rest.
The hidden bedrock of AI
These individuals are the hidden champions of AI, providing the invisible work that underpins much of the breakthroughs achieved in machine learning applications around the world today. These people are very much the poor relations of the tech world however, recruited to projects via platforms such as Mechanical Turk or Appen, and often paid a pittance for their labor.
While the work performed often involves relatively menial tasks, such as identifying the objects in an image, or providing accurate labelling, the importance of the work was perhaps underlined by the $300 million valuation placed on Appen when it was bought by their larger rival Figure Eight in March.
It’s a world that can easily be characterized as a race to the bottom, with platforms seeking every cheaper sources of labor to do work that tech companies scarcely care as to the origins or conditions the work is completed under.
On the surface, the leafy environs of Ashridge House in the UK seems an unlikely place to find a change in this approach. The historic English country house is the home not only of the Ashridge Business School, but of the Hult Prize Accelerator, which attracts startups from around the world to compete for $1 million funding to take their idea to market.