ChatGPT is powered by contract laborers making $15 an hour with no benefits
Since its release on November 3, 2022, ChatGPT has been hailed as one of the most significant breakthroughs in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). Despite its remarkable success as an AI-powered chatbot, OpenAI’s ChatGPT still depends largely on an army of AI trainers for its accuracy.
According to a report by NBC News on Saturday, the success of ChatGPT comes partly from a sizeable, unseen army of contract laborers working behind the scene to educate AI systems on evaluating data and producing text and visuals. Two of the OpenAI contractors spoke to the news outlet about their work training the system behind ChatGPT.
Despite the constant and never-ending need, these workers and other professionals in the field receive meager compensation, starting at just $15 per hour with no benefits.
One of the contractors is Alexej Savreux, a 34-year-old resident of Kansas City, who has performed various jobs over the years. He has assembled fast-food sandwiches, worked as a custodian and a junk hauler, and even handled technical sound duties for live theater. However, his current profession is less manual labor-oriented. He now works as an artificial intelligence trainer.
“We are grunt workers, but there would be no AI language systems without it,” Alexej Savreux, who has worked with startups like OpenAI, the creators of AI-sensation ChatGPT, told NBC. “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,” Savreux expressed.
Savreux is a member of the army of AI trainers who have classified pictures and anticipated what text applications would produce next to increase AI’s accuracy.
Their input and data on ChatGPT and other AI systems enabled the creation of these products, but their efforts are often overlooked.
“A lot of the discourse around AI is very congratulatory,” said Sonam Jindal, the program lead for AI, labor, and the economy at the Partnership on AI, a nonprofit based in San Francisco
“But we’re missing a big part of the story: that this is still hugely reliant on a large human workforce,” added Jindal, who works at the NGO that promotes research and education around artificial intelligence.
For decades, the tech industry has relied on the labor of thousands of lower-skilled, lower-paid workers to grow its tech empires, starting with punch-card operators in the 1950s and progressing to more recent grievances from Google contractors who have expressed dissatisfaction with their second-class status. These individuals were distinguished from full-time employees by their yellow badges. The popularity of online gig work through platforms like Amazon Mechanical Turk surged even further early in the pandemic.
Now, the burgeoning AI industry is adopting a similar approach.
According to a 2021 report by the Partnership on AI, a surge in demand for “data enrichment work” was anticipated. The report urged the industry to commit to equitable compensation and other enhanced policies, and in the previous year, the organization released voluntary guidelines for companies to adhere to.
Meanwhile, OpenAI is not the only tech company leveraging contract laborers from third-world countries. On Monday, over 150 AI contractors from Facebook, TikTok, and ChatGPT in Nairobi, Kenya, voted to establish a union to address these concerns.
The technology industry has adopted this kind of employment as the norm, relying on the efforts of lower-skilled, lower-paid individuals to establish its computer oligarchies.
The Partnership on AI is urging the sector to treat these workers equitably and respectfully in exchange for their contributions, which enable AI advancements, even if it results in high-quality employment.
According to a January report from Semafor, OpenAI has engaged approximately 1,000 remote workers in areas such as Eastern Europe and Latin America to categorize data or train enterprise software on computer engineering tasks.
However, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman stated in a Twitter post in January that OpenAI is still a small enterprise with only 375 employees.