Google’s Bard Relies on a Frustrated, Bewildered Shadow Workforce

Photo by Garry Knight under CC BY 2.0

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AI is already creating jobs. Not so good ones.

A Bloomberg report on Wednesday shed light on the contractors working on Google’s Chat-GPT competitor Bard. Their mission is simple: talk to the chatbot and hurriedly fact-check and rate the answers it gives within incredibly short timeframes. They’re probably using Google to do that. Googling so Google can Google better. Very meta. The pay isn’t that great, either.

Generative Mechanical Turk

It’s an open secret that Big Tech relies on armies of contractors, sometimes bigger than their salaried workforce, to refine their products. These contractors’ salaries are often hundreds of thousands less than the median salary at these firms, and they perform grueling tasks like sifting through and tagging graphic videos to hone platforms’ moderation algorithms.

Now with the generative AI arms race in full swing, contractors working for Google told Bloomberg the Kafka-esque interactions they have with Bard in order to make it less likely to goof up an answer, and potentially lose the company another $100 billion in market value:

  • Sources told Bloomberg they were asked to assess the reliability of Bard’s answers on a number of technical topics, including medical doses and state law. The contractors said they sometimes had to make assessments in as little as three minutes.
  • Google is pushing particularly hard on medical AI, and has been testing a medical chatbot called Med-PaLM 2 with customers including the Mayo Clinic since April, The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday. Given some generative AI chatbots have difficulty putting the Star Wars franchise in chronological order, let’s pray Google has put a bit more thought into training Med-PaLM 2.

“It’s worth remembering that these systems are not the work of magicians — they are the work of thousands of people and their low-paid labor,” Laura Edelson, a computer scientist at New York University, told Bloomberg.

Contract Killer: Contractors form part of the machinery powering commercial generative AI, but they’re also at the bleeding edge for its consumption as low-cost producers. Rest of World reported on Tuesday that outsourced offshore contractors are already competing with AI-generated work, and in some cases fold it into their own workdays. While an AI-generated illustration will save time (and therefore money) for the customer, contractors who pay to use tools like Midjourney might find themselves out of pocket. “Employers want workers in these countries because they can pay less wages,” Uma Rani, a senior economist at the United Nations’ International Labour Organization, told Rest of World. “But on the other hand, the amount of [platform] fees workers have to pay — it’s almost double the exploitation that these workers face.”