These companies claim to provide “fair-trade” data work. Do they?
这些公司声称提供“公平交易”数据工作。真的吗?
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2019-08-11 19:41
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On a chilly New York afternoon in February, Leon Campbell hunkered down at his desk in an office in midtown Manhattan. He cued up a podcast about gaming and launched a software platform on his laptop. For the next few hours he clicked on the corners of vehicles in images, prompting the software to draw boxes around them.

今年2月纽约一个寒冷的下午,里昂坎贝尔(Leon Campbell)在曼哈顿中城的一间办公室里伏案办公。他制作了一个关于游戏的播客,并在笔记本电脑上推出了一个软件平台。在接下来的几个小时里,他点击了图片中的汽车角落,促使软件在它们周围画出盒子。

By identifying pictures of cars and SUVs, Campbell and others were creating reams of data for training algorithms such as the ones in autonomous vehicles. It was monotonous work, said Campbell, who is 24 and autistic. Often it entailed “drawing boxes in similar positions and readjusting the boxes so that they are still around the object when they move a little bit out of frame.” Nonetheless, he was glad to have it. “It helps me prepare for future endeavors that I want to pursue,” he said, adding that he hopes to be a game programmer or designer.

通过识别汽车和越野车的图片,坎贝尔和其他人正在为训练算法(比如自动驾驶汽车中的算法)创建大量数据。坎贝尔说,这是一份单调的工作。它通常需要“在相似的位置绘制盒子,并重新调整盒子,使它们在离开框架时仍然围绕着物体。”尽管如此,他还是很高兴拥有它。“它帮助我为我想追求的未来努力做准备,”他说,并补充说他希望成为一名游戏程序员或设计师。

A lot of human labor goes into building artificial-intelligence systems. Much of it is in cleaning, categorizing, and labeling data before AIs ingest it to look for patterns. The AI Now Institute, an ethics body, refers to this work as the “hidden labor” of the AI pipeline, “providing the invisible human work that often backstops claims of AI ‘magic’ once these systems are deployed in products and services.”

建造人工智能系统需要大量的人力。其中大部分是在人工智能摄取数据以寻找模式之前,对数据进行清理、分类和标记。伦理机构AI Now Institute将这项工作称为人工智能管道的“隐藏劳动”,“一旦这些系统被部署到产品和服务中,就会提供无形的人工工作,以支持人工智能‘魔力’的主张。”

Sign up for The Algorithm — artificial intelligence, demystified

报名参加算法-人工智能,解密

Campbell is a relatively privileged member of that labor pool. He works 28 hours a week for Daivergent, an online work platform designed to help autistic people get useful work experience and prepare for a career, and makes somewhere between $12 and $20 an hour. (Daivergent wouldn’t divulge his exact wage but said that was the company’s “typical range” and the “market rate” for New York City.)

坎贝尔是这个劳动力市场中享有相对特权的一员。他每周为Daivergent工作28小时,这是一个在线工作平台,旨在帮助自闭症患者获得有用的工作经验,为职业生涯做准备。(戴维金特不愿透露他的确切工资,但表示这是该公司的“典型区间”,也是纽约市的“市场价格”。)

By contrast, most people doing data annotation don’t work in Manhattan offices but from their homes in places such as India, Kenya, Malaysia, and the Philippines. They log in to online platforms for anywhere from a few minutes to several hours a day, perhaps distinguishing between bunches of green onions and stalks of celery or between cat-eye and aviator-style sunglasses. As detailed in the recent book Ghost Work by Mary Gray and Siddharth Suri, most of them are gig workers with low pay, insecure employment, and no opportunity for career advancement.

相比之下,大多数做数据注释的人不在曼哈顿的办公室工作,而是在印度、肯尼亚、马来西亚和菲律宾等地的家中工作。他们每天登录在线平台的时间从几分钟到几个小时不等,可能是为了区分一串串葱和芹菜,也可能是为了区分猫眼和飞行员风格的太阳镜。正如玛丽•格雷(Mary Gray)和西特哈尔特•苏瑞(Siddharth Suri)在最近出版的《幽灵工作》(Ghost Work)一书中详细描述的那样,他们中的大多数人都是零工,工资低,工作不稳定,没有职业晋升的机会。

A small group of data annotation firms aims to rewrite that narrative. But these firms aiming to “do well by doing good” in AI data services are finding the path to enterprise enlightenment can be a rocky one.

一小群数据注释公司的目标是改写这种说法。但这些旨在“通过做好人工智能数据服务来做得更好”的公司发现,通往企业启迪的道路可能并不平坦。

Alegion

Alegion

A numbers game

一个数字游戏

Typically, data annotation workers log on to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk or gig-work platforms from data annotation companies like Appen. There they perform tasks contracted out by AI firms that pay the platforms slivers of a cent per minute. In the cutthroat competition for business, these platforms compete on scale, speed, and cost.

通常,数据注释人员会从Appen这样的数据注释公司登录到Amazon的Mechanical Turk或gig-work平台。在那里,他们执行人工智能公司外包的任务,而这些公司每分钟只向平台支付一美分。在激烈的商业竞争中,这些平台在规模、速度和成本上展开竞争。

Appen, for example, boasts a pool of one million contractors who perform tasks such as categorizing medical images or translating text for chatbots. When the firm bought the data annotation provider Figure Eight for $300 million in March, the company explained that the purchase would help it meet clients’ “scale, speed and quality requirements.”

例如,Appen拥有100万名承包商,他们负责为聊天机器人分类医疗图像或翻译文本等任务。今年3月,该公司以3亿美元的价格收购了数据注释提供商Figure 8,当时该公司解释说,这笔收购将有助于满足客户的“规模、速度和质量要求”。

“It is really a race to the bottom,” says Daniel Kaelin, director of customer success at Alegion, a data annotation services company in Austin, Texas. “This whole industry is very, very competitive; everybody tries to find that little cheaper labor force somewhere else in the world.”

“这确实是一场逐底竞争,”德克萨斯州奥斯汀数据注释服务公司Alegion客户成功总监丹尼尔•凯林(Daniel Kaelin)表示。“整个行业竞争非常激烈;每个人都想在世界其他地方找到更便宜的劳动力。”

What does “impact” really mean?

“影响”到底是什么意思?

Alegion is one of several platforms, including CloudFactory, Digital Divide Data (DDD), iMerit, and Samasource, that say they want to make AI data work dignified. They call themselves “impact” companies and claim to offer ethically sourced data labor, with better working conditions and career prospects than most firms in the industry. It’s like fair-trade coffee beans, but for enormous data sets.

Alegion是CloudFactory、数字鸿沟数据(Digital Divide Data, DDD)、iMerit和Samasource等平台之一,它们表示希望让人工智能数据体面地工作。他们称自己是“有影响力”的公司,并声称提供符合职业道德的数据劳工,工作条件和职业前景比业内大多数公司都要好。这就像公平贸易的咖啡豆,但需要庞大的数据集。

However, there are no regulations and only weak industry standards for what ethical sourcing means. And the companies’ own definitions of it vary widely.

然而,对于道德采购意味着什么,没有相关规定,行业标准薄弱。而这些公司对它的定义也大相径庭。

At iMerit, for instance, people who have worked at the company for several years have moved up the ladder to serve as team leads, project managers, and domain trainers, says Radha Basu, the company’s cofounder and CEO. The firm has 2,300 full-time employees, most based in India; half are women, who can get up to six months of maternity leave. iMerit formed in 2012 as a double-bottom-line for-profit company, meaning it measures itself on social-impact metrics, such as inclusion and diversity, as well as traditional fiscal ones.

例如,iMerit的联合创始人兼首席执行官拉达•巴苏(Radha Basu)表示,在iMerit工作多年的人已经晋升到团队领导者、项目经理和领域培训师的职位。该公司拥有2300名全职员工,其中大部分在印度;其中一半是女性,她们可以有长达6个月的产假。iMerit成立于2012年,是一家以盈利为目的的双底线公司,这意味着它既用传统的财政指标,也用包容性和多样性等社会影响指标来衡量自身。

People in Kenya and Uganda working for data services provider Samasource also have full-time jobs with benefits such as health care, pensions, subsidized meals, and 90 days of maternity leave. DDD, meanwhile, hires low-income youth, rural migrants, and “urban slum dwellers”—at least 50% of whom are women—to perform digital tasks for six to eight hours a day, according to a 2018 company report. The firm pays for some education and helps its employee “associates” move on to jobs elsewhere.

在肯尼亚和乌干达,为数据服务提供商Samasource工作的人也有全职工作,享受医疗保健、养老金、补贴膳食和90天产假等福利。与此同时,根据DDD公司2018年的一份报告,该公司雇佣低收入青年、农村移民和“城市贫民窟居民”(其中至少50%是女性)每天进行6至8小时的数字任务。该公司支付部分教育费用,并帮助其员工“同事”转移到其他地方工作。

Alegion and CloudFactory, by contrast, both offer mainly hourly contract work—the norm among data annotation firms—rather than full-time employment. CloudFactory says 79% of its “cloud workers” report that the company is their primary source of income, up from 28% in 2015. For Alegion, though, “a lot of it is viewed as supplemental income rather than primary income,” says Alegion’s CEO, Nathaniel Gates. “It’s not a career for them.”

相比之下,Alegion和CloudFactory都主要提供按小时计费的合同服务,而不是全职工作,这是数据注释公司的标准。CloudFactory表示,79%的“云员工”表示,该公司是他们的主要收入来源,高于2015年的28%。不过,对于Alegion来说,“很多收入被视为补充收入,而不是主要收入,”Alegion的首席执行官纳撒尼尔·盖茨(Nathaniel Gates)说。“这不是他们的职业。”

Troy Stringfield, who took over as Alegion’s global impact director in 2018, defends the “impact” label—which the seven-year-old company has adopted only in the past year or so—by saying impact means creating work that improves people’s lives. “It’s going in and saying, ‘What is a livable wage? What is getting them better than where they’re at?’” he says.

2018年接任Alegion全球影响力总监的特洛伊•斯特林菲尔德(Troy Stringfield)为“影响力”这一标签进行了辩护,他表示,影响力意味着创造能够改善人们生活的工作。这家成立7年的公司仅在过去一年左右的时间里才采用了这一标签。“它会走进来问,‘什么是适宜居住的工资?是什么让他们比现在更好呢?’”他说。

But Sara Enright, project director at the Global Impact Sourcing Coalition (GISC), a member-funded industry body, says it’s doubtful that such work should be called impact sourcing: “If it is solely gig work in which an individual is accessing part-time wages through an hour a day here and there, that is not impact employment, because it does not actually lead to career development and ultimately poverty alleviation.”

但莎拉Enright,项目主管全球影响采购联盟(GISC),会员资助产业体,说这种工作是否应该被称为影响来源是值得怀疑的:“如果只是零工工作,一个人通过每天一小时的工作来获得兼职工资,这不会影响就业,因为它实际上不会带来职业发展,最终也不会减轻贫困。”

CloudFactory, DDD, iMerit and Samasource (but not Alegion) are all members of GISC, which has established an “impact sourcing standard.” It defines minimum requirements and voluntary best practices for employment that “improves the lives of people who otherwise have limited prospects for formal employment.” The organization, founded in 2016, requires its members’ performance on nondiscrimination, equal pay, and other criteria to be assessed every two years.

CloudFactory、DDD、iMerit和Samasource(但不是Alegion)都是GISC的成员,后者建立了一个“影响采购标准”。它规定了就业的最低要求和自愿的最佳做法,以“改善那些原本就业前景有限的人的生活”。该组织成立于2016年,要求其成员在不歧视、同工同酬和其他标准上的表现每两年进行一次评估。

Yet GISC members aren’t penalized or kicked out if they don’t pass the assessment. The companies also vary in how much they publicly report. Samasource, for example, publishes impact audits reporting workforce demographics, the number of people “moved out of poverty,” and more. DDD’s annual reports include data showing employees’ average monthly earnings and estimated increase in lifetime income.

然而,如果没有通过评估,GISC成员不会受到惩罚或被开除。这些公司公开报告的数量也各不相同。例如,Samasource发布影响审计报告,报告劳动力人口统计数据、“脱贫”人数等。DDD的年度报告包括显示员工平均月收入和估计终生收入增长的数据。

CloudFactory, on the other hand, published a social impact report in 2015 but has not put one out since. The company told MIT Technology Review it reports impact metrics annually to the Rockefeller Foundation, an investor in the firm. Meanwhile, iMerit said that as a for-profit firm, it doesn’t publish such reports, while Alegion said it has “broad targets it wants to meet” but didn’t provide specific metrics.

另一方面,CloudFactory在2015年发布了一份社会影响报告,但此后一直没有发布。该公司告诉《麻省理工技术评论》(MIT Technology Review),它每年都会向洛克菲勒基金会(Rockefeller Foundation)报告影响指标。洛克菲勒基金会是该公司的投资者之一。与此同时,iMerit表示,作为一家盈利性公司,它不会发布此类报告,而Alegion表示,它有“希望实现的广泛目标”,但没有提供具体指标。

Getting into the US market

进入美国市场

In their bid to expand, companies like Alegion and iMerit are also trying to build a pool of data workers in the US, drawing on underprivileged and marginalized populations there. That gives them lucrative access to government, financial, and health care clients that demand stringent security measures, work with regulated medical and financial data, or need the work done in the US for other legal reasons.

在扩张的努力中,像Alegion和iMerit这样的公司也在试图在美国建立一个数据工作者池,吸引那里的弱势群体和边缘人群。这使他们能够接触到政府、金融和医疗保健客户,这些客户要求严格的安全措施,使用受监管的医疗和金融数据,或者出于其他法律原因需要在美国完成这些工作,从而获得丰厚的利润。

To recruit those US workers, the impact firms can go through companies like Daivergent, which serves as a conduit to organizations such as the Autism Society and Autism Speaks. (That’s where Campbell, whom we met earlier drawing boxes around cars, works.) Alegion also did a trial using workers provided through IAM23, a support group for military veterans.

要招募这些美国员工,影响公司可以通过像Daivergent这样的公司,该公司为自闭症协会(Autism Society)和自闭症之声(Autism Speaks)等组织提供渠道。(我们之前见过坎贝尔在汽车周围画盒子,他就在那里工作。)Alegion还利用IAM23提供的工人进行了试验,IAM23是一个为退伍军人提供支持的组织。

But trying to bring a model based on overseas outsourcing to the US presents a problem. “You still need to have the inexpensive labor,” says Alegion’s Stringfield.

但试图将一种基于海外外包的模式引入美国存在一个问题。“你仍然需要廉价的劳动力,”Alegion的Stringfield说。

iMerit, too, has had trouble growing its US workforce. When the company set up shop in New Orleans last year, promising 100 new jobs, Mayor Mitch Landrieu publicly congratulated it. But after more than a year, the company has just 30 full-time employees in the city. To get to 100 it needs more client contracts, says Jai Natarajan, the company’s head of marketing.

iMerit在增加美国员工方面也遇到了困难。该公司去年在新奥尔良开业时,承诺提供100个新职位,市长米奇·兰德里欧(Mitch Landrieu)公开表示祝贺。但一年多过去了,该公司在香港只有30名全职员工。该公司营销主管贾伊•纳塔拉詹(Jai Natarajan)表示,要达到100家,它需要更多的客户合同。

Part of the company’s pitch is that it isn’t just providing cheap commodity gig work but something quite specialized. In June, for example, iMerit’s Basu was in New Orleans helping develop a training program for workers doing a type of image analysis that can take as long as 45 to 90 minutes per task. “People look at impact sourcing and assume that people who come from poor backgrounds do only the lowest-level labeling. That’s quite inaccurate,” Basu says. But the race-to-the-bottom pricing in the data labeling industry helps reinforce a general perception that the work is simple and should be cheap. That makes iMerit’s claim—that its services require higher skills—a hard one to sell.

该公司的部分卖点是,它不仅提供廉价的零工工作,还提供一些相当专业的工作。例如,今年6月,iMerit的巴苏(Basu)在新奥尔良帮助开发一个培训项目,为从事图像分析的工人提供培训,每项任务可能需要45至90分钟。“人们关注影响来源,并假设来自贫困背景的人只做最低层次的标签。这是非常不准确的,”巴苏说。但数据标签行业的“逐底竞争”定价,有助于强化这样一种普遍看法,即这项工作很简单,应该很便宜。这使得iMerit声称它的服务需要更高的技能,这一点很难推销。

Competing with mainstream for-profit firms has also been tough for Samasource, which Leila Janah launched as a nonprofit 11 years ago. A self-proclaimed “total social-justice kind of nerd” who has given talks at SXSW, several TedX events, and the IMF’s 2016 annual meeting, Janah wrote a 2017 book, Give Work: Reversing Poverty One Job at a Time. After launching her fair-trade luxury skincare brand LXMI, Janah was featured in the glossy pages of Vogue in 2018, alongside fashion designers, models, a pair of sibling ice dancers, and others who are “effecting change and leading conversations wherever their careers take them.”

对Samasource来说,与主流盈利性公司竞争也很艰难。11年前,莱拉•贾纳(Leila Janah)将Samasource创办为一家非盈利机构。自称“完全社会正义的书呆子”的Janah曾在SXSW大会、几场TedX活动以及IMF 2016年年会上发表演讲,她在2017年写了一本书,名为《付出工作:一次只做一份工作,扭转贫困》。在推出公平贸易奢侈护肤品牌LXMI后,Janah在2018年登上了《Vogue》杂志的时尚版面,与她一起出现的还有时装设计师、模特、一对兄弟姐妹冰舞演员,以及其他“在职业生涯中影响改变、引领对话”的人。

Despite her prolific efforts, Janah says, Samasource didn’t stand a chance against for-profit startups. “We were basically going to be screwed over by all these companies …with zero interest in ethics or paying fair wages but raising $20 million of VC money to build training data with, like, basically an anonymous crowd labor force,” she says.

Janah说,尽管Samasource做出了巨大的努力,但她在与营利性初创企业的竞争中却毫无胜算。她表示:“我们基本上会被所有这些公司搞得一团糟……它们对道德规范毫无兴趣,或者支付公平的工资,但却筹集了2000万美元的风投资金,用基本上是匿名群体劳动力的方式建立培训数据。”

So she switched to a hybrid model in which the founding nonprofit owns the majority of the shares in a for-profit company that can raise capital from investors. It’s an increasingly common model for social entrepreneurs in areas like microcredit, health care, and job training.

因此,她转向了一种混合模式,在这种模式下,创始的非营利组织拥有一家盈利性公司的大部分股份,而这家公司可以从投资者那里筹集资金。在小额信贷、医疗保健和职业培训等领域,这是越来越普遍的社会企业家模式。

Alegion

Alegion

But it came with a compromise. Samasource decided that to woo investors, it had no choice but to give them voting rights. “There’s no investor that would otherwise invest in a company where a nonprofit board was kind of dictating the outcomes,” says Janah. She says her board “felt the risk of investors’ stripping away Samasource’s impact model was very low,” and she wouldn’t elaborate on whether the investors have actually taken any decisions that weakened it.

但这是有妥协的。Samasource决定,为了吸引投资者,它别无选择,只能赋予他们投票权。Janah说:“如果一家公司的董事会是非营利性的,那么就没有投资者会投资这家公司。”她说,她的董事会“认为投资者剥离Samasource影响力模型的风险非常低”,她不愿详细说明投资者是否真的做出了削弱其影响力的决定。

Impact-washing?

影响消除?

With no standards for reporting and no third-party validation, we have to take the firms’ word for it that what they are doing isn’t just marketing gimmickry, or what some call “impact-washing.”

由于没有报告标准,也没有第三方验证,我们不得不相信这些公司的话,他们所做的不只是营销噱头,或者一些人所说的“影响消除”。

“It’s right to question when a company says without a lot of qualifications, ‘Look at the impact that we’re achieving through just providing good jobs,’” says Enright. “Just growing a business in a developing country does not necessarily make it an impactful enterprise, just because it’s offering good jobs to people who otherwise wouldn’t have those jobs.”

恩赖特说:“当一家公司说,‘看看我们仅仅通过提供好工作就能实现的效果’,但没有太多资历时,我们有理由提出质疑。”“仅仅在发展中国家发展业务并不一定会使其成为一家有影响力的企业,因为它为那些本来不会拥有这些工作的人提供了好工作。”

Unlike with fair-trade goods, there is little public pressure on the companies to be honest, because they provide their services to businesses, not directly to consumers. “Consumers can value ethical sourcing—for example, at Patagonia and various consumer brands—and you kind of buy into that as a consumer,” says iMerit’s Natarajan. But “it remains to be seen what ethical sourcing means in the b-to-b sector.” As a 2014 issue of Pulse, an outsourcing industry magazine, noted, companies would have to make a choice to use impact-conscious labor providers. Without laws or public pressure it’s not clear what can impel them to make such a choice, and without standards and accountability, it’s not clear how they should evaluate the providers.

与公平贸易产品不同的是,公众对这些公司几乎没有要求它们诚实的压力,因为它们向企业提供服务,而不是直接向消费者提供服务。iMerit的Natarajan说:“消费者可以重视道德来源——例如,在巴塔哥尼亚和各种消费品牌——作为消费者,你多少会认同这一点。”但“在B2B领域,道德采购意味着什么,还有待观察。”正如外包行业杂志《脉搏》(Pulse) 2014年的一期所指出的,企业必须做出选择,使用具有影响力的劳动力供应商。没有法律或公众压力,不清楚是什么促使他们做出这样的选择,没有标准和问责制,也不清楚他们应该如何评估提供者。

In the end it may be only regulation that changes labor practices. “There is no way to change employment from the inside of markets. Yes, they’re doing everything they can, and that’s like saying I’ve got a bicycle with no pedals, and I’m doing everything I can to ride it as quickly as this thing is built to go,” says Gray, the Ghost Work coauthor. “There is no organizing of the rights of workers and fair employment without involving civil society, and we haven’t done that yet.

最终,可能只有规章制度才能改变劳动习惯。“没有办法从市场内部改变就业。是的,他们正在尽他们所能,这就像说我有一辆没有踏板的自行车,我正在尽我所能骑它,就像这个东西被造出来一样快。”“没有公民社会的参与,就没有工人权利和公平就业的组织,我们还没有做到这一点。

Kate Kaye is a freelance journalist and founder of the AI ethics reporting site RedTail.

凯特·凯是一名自由撰稿人,也是人工智能道德报道网站RedTail的创始人。

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