Mary L. Gray and Siddharth Suri have published an article for the Harvard Business Review asking, “just how artificial is Artificial Intelligence?”
Whether it is Facebook’s trending topics; Amazon’s delivery of Prime orders via Alexa; or the many instant responses of bots we now receive in response to consumer activity or complaint, tasks advertised as AI-driven involve humans, working at computer screens, paid to respond to queries and requests sent to them through application programming interfaces (APIs) of crowdwork systems. The truth is, AI is as “fully-automated” as the Great and Powerful Oz was in that famous scene from the classic film, where Dorothy and friends realize that the great wizard is simply a man manically pulling levers from behind a curtain.
For Gray and Suri, the mythos of “full-automation” is akin the Great and Powerful Oz, famously depicted as a man “manically pulling levers from behind a curtain” in the classic American film.
This blend of AI and humans, who follow through when the AI falls short, isn’t going away anytime soon. Indeed, the creation of human tasks in the wake of technological advancement has been a part of automation’s history since the invention of the machine lathe.
Recognizing the presence of the human labor that scaffolds AI should be fundamental to our relationship to these technologies and platforms:
As consumers, we have a right to know what ingredients and processes are in the AI that compiles our news and media content, in the same way that we should know what’s in the food we feed our families. As citizens, we have a need to know where our information comes from. And, as human beings, we should always know when humans are at work, producing what we consume, whether physical or digital. The labor of these hardworking people around the world should not be rendered invisible or opaque by the shibboleth of AI. Just as we need companies to be accountable for the labor practices that produce our food, clothes, and computers, so, too, do we need accountability to both consumers and workers producing and shaping digital content.
Full text of the article is available here.