Tucked into a back corner far from the street, the baby-food section of Whole Foods in San Francisco’s SoMa district doesn’t get much foot traffic. I glance around for the security guard, then reach towards the apple and broccoli superfood puffs. After dropping them into my empty shopping cart, I put them right back. “Did you get it?” I ask my coworker filming on his iPhone. It’s my first paid acting gig. I’m helping teach software the skills needed for future robots to help people with their shopping.
Whole Foods was an unwitting participant in this program, a project of German-Canadian startup Twenty Billion Neurons. I quietly perform nine other brief actions, including opening freezers, and pushing a cart from right to left, then left to right. Then I walk out without buying a thing. Later, it takes me around 30 minutes to edit the clips to the required 2 to 5 seconds, and upload them to Amazon’s crowdsourcing website Mechanical Turk. A few days later I am paid $3.50. If Twenty Billion ever creates software for a shopping assistant robot, it will make much more.
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In sneaking around Whole Foods, I joined an invisible workforce being paid very little to do odd things in the name of advancing artificial intelligence. You may have been told AI is the gleaming pinnacle of technology. These workers are part of the messy human reality behind it.
Proponents believe every aspect of life and business should be and will be mediated by AI. It’s a campaign stoked by large tech companies such as Alphabet showing that machine learning can master tasks such as recognizing speech or images. But most current machine-learning systems such as voice assistants are built by training algorithms with giant stocks of labeled data. The labels come from ranks of contractors examining images,...
(Excerpt) Read more at: WIRED
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