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The Skilled Workers Training AI to Take Their Jobs

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Earning up to $60 per hour, Jay was an early recruit, joining Remotasks the month before OpenAI unveiled ChatGPT to the world. Since then, the platform has been accelerating its search for expert data laborers. In January 2024, WIRED found, the company published job ads seeking speakers of more than 20 different European languages, as well as US-based creative writers, sports journalists, chemistry experts, and nuclear physicists.

“Left to their own devices, generative AI can be prone to hallucination, and even if it’s being factual there are ways to improve answers to make them more comprehensive,” says Primack. Experts are necessary, she says, “ultimately to produce data that really moves the envelope in terms of what the AI is capable of.”

Remotasks still maintains a “large operational footprint” in the Philippines, says Primack. But the majority of the company’s new expert contractors are in the US, she says, while many of the language postings are based in Europe where native speakers live. Primack is less forthcoming about what exactly prompted this shift. Were specific Scale AI clients asking for more expert data, or did the company try to anticipate what the next generation of AI needed? “It’s a combination of both,” she says, explaining that the expert workers are training data for a multitude of clients, not just one.

Researchers have their own theories on what these expert roles imply about the direction of the AI industry.

“Before, most of the AI technologies that we use are trained on what we call large, garbage-dump data sets,” says Milagros Miceli, who leads the data, algorithmic systems, and ethics research group at the Weizenbaum research institute in Berlin. OpenAI built ChatGPT in part by scraping the internet and paying workers in Kenya to flag the toxic content. But scraping data like that has triggered lawsuits from publishers and rights owners, and many prominent publishers now block data collection. Miceli says paying experts provides a workaround.

“In the last year, companies are actually creating new data to avoid those types of corporate copyright complaints,” Miceli says. “If you hire a writer to write stories specifically for the purpose of training your model, and you pay them, then you own the rights to those texts. You don’t have a copyright problem anymore.”

Since ChatGPT’s debut, study after study has forecast disruption in industries usually occupied by the college-educated in the US and Europe—previously a workforce generally considered safe from technological change. Despite those concerns, the wages on offer can make it hard for some people to pass up training gigs that may lead to their obsolescence.

Pay for specialist roles varies depending on expertise. An infectious disease expert can earn up to $40 per hour on Remotasks, according to current job postings, whereas historians are offered $32 per hour. People hired to train algorithms in specific languages tend to get less. A Bulgarian writer job was advertised for an hourly rate of $5.64, while job listings showed Finnish speakers could earn almost five times that, at $23 per hour.