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Artificial intelligence as a public collective good

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Since the triumph of ChatGPT, a number of articles have appeared that deal with the concrete situation of the workers who manage the creation of the data sets behind the scenes, without which the AI ​​revolution would not be possible.

Last October, the respected Noema magazine reported on The Exploited Labor Behind Artificial Intelligence, in June The Verge and NY Mag collaborated on the new transnational subclass of AI workers, and just a few days ago the Guardian reported that the Dataset curators work in the same traumatizing conditions as social media platforms’ content moderators, a profession recognized by the platforms themselves as dangerous, whose working conditions led to a lawsuit against Facebook filed three years ago for around $50 million was settled.

Anthropologist Mary L. Gray has long referred to this work as ghost work, an apt term to describe how this form of outsourced work has been overshadowed and rendered invisible by the hype surrounding shiny new digital products.

But there is another way.

In the text I piq, Time Magazine introduces the Indian startup Karya, “the world‘s first ethical data company”. The company outrageously pays its workers a decent wage that’s twenty times the Indian minimum wage, while also offering them “de facto ownership of the data they create on the job.” Every resale of a data set means additional income for the workers, which gives the old digital rights movement around Own Your Data a completely new meaning in terms of labor law that does not stop at Indian startups.

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Months ago, in a short text about AI as stochastic libraries, I compared the development of AI systems with the operation of public libraries, which are run as public collective goods by the state. The comparison seems obvious to me: A data model that can combine any knowledge in the world with algorithms on top, and that is based on data scraping of public data, collective efforts such as Wikipedia, on copyrighted and public domain works and millions of other public sources already shows inherent character as a public good.

A minimum ethical effort by the multi-million dollar corporations would be an offensive to the political actors for the unconditional basic income: If we all contribute our part to the data streams that provide the so-called “intelligence” of this and future AI generations, then we all have a share in it development to.

The recognition of AI systems as a public good would be a step in this direction.

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