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Rep. Jayapal, Sen. Markey Lead Colleagues in Demanding Answers from AI Companies on Use of Underpaid, Overworked Data Workers

Progressive leaders in Senate and House demand answers from AI CEOs as they’re set to appear in Congress for special briefing

Lawmakers: “Tech companies must not build AI on the backs of exploited workers.”

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington (September 13, 2023) — Representative Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) and Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, today led their colleagues in writing to nine of the nation’s leading companies developing and deploying artificial intelligence (AI) technology—Google, OpenAI, Anthropic, Meta, Microsoft, Amazon, Inflection AI, Scale AI, and IBM—to call on them to answer for the working conditions of their data workers, laborers who are often paid low wages and provided no benefits but keep AI products online by completing tasks such as labeling training data and rating chatbot responses for accuracy and safety. Several of those CEOs are joining the first of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) “Insight Forums” on AI safety and governance today, including Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, Anthropic cofounder Jack Clark, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, and IBM CEO Arvind Krishna.

“Despite the essential nature of this work, millions of data workers around the world perform these stressful tasks under constant surveillance, with low wages and no benefits,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter. “Tech companies have a responsibility to ensure safe and healthy working conditions, fairly compensated work, and protection from unjust disciplinary proceedings. […] Unfortunately, many companies have sidestepped these duties, and that must change.”

“Contrary to the popular notion that AI is entirely machine-based and autonomous, AI systems in fact depend heavily on human labor,” they continued. “Despite the essential nature of this work to AI, the working conditions are grueling. Wages are low: the median wage of workers on [Amazon’s Mechanical Turk] was estimated at just $1.77 per hour. Most workers receive no health insurance or benefits.As much as a third of workers’ time is spent on uncompensated work such as searching for tasks, undergoing training, and communicating with requesters, and many workers are periodically unpaid without explanation. Workers are often under constant surveillance, with keystroke logs, computer screenshots, and even webcam photos taken by the digital labor platform.”

Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representatives Jamaal Bowman (NY-16), Katie Porter (CA-47), and Mark Pocan (WI-02) signed the letter.

The lawmakers requested that each of the nine companies provide written responses to their questions regarding the working conditions of data workers, their use of data work in training and deploying AI technology, and steps taken to uphold the privacy of consumers when their information is transferred to data workers, by October 11, 2023.

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