AI Startup Using Prison Labor For Coding Work

Linnaea Mallette/Public Domain

New technology may be creating more low-paying, tedious jobs than it tries to eliminate.

One of the main purposes of AI is to automate much of the labor performed by humans today, but in many cases, it does almost the opposite—requiring a seemingly endless number of tedious jobs in the field of data labeling. In China, workers spend countless hours in data factories manually determining content in images and texts for very little pay, both The New York Times and GQ China have reported.

And now, Vainu has tapped into a new source of cheap manpower: prison labor. Over the last few months, the startup has partnered with two prisons in Finland to improve its Finnish natural language processing (NLP) abilities. Vainu's English NLP training labor comes from Amazon Mechanical Turk, but the company initially struggled to find a cheap source of Finish labor, the co-founder told The Verge.

Now, the startup pays the same price as it does for Mechanical Turk to the Finnish government agency in charge of the prisons. The amount that prisoners are paid was not disclosed. Vainu stated that it is“a prime example of a company creating work because of AI [... to] employ and empower the new working class.”

But in reality, it serves as evidence for growing concerns about how technology will create even more low-paying, banal tasks than it seeks to eliminate.

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