Working On Microsoft’s Cortana Is Laborious and Poorly Paid (vice.com)

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Apple, Google, Amazon, and most recently Facebook have been found hiring human workers to transcribe audio captured by their own products. Motherboard found Microsoft does the same for some Skype calls, and is still doing so despite other companies suspending their reliance on contractors. A cache of leaked documents obtained by Motherboard gives insight into what the human contractors behind the development of tech giants’ artificial intelligence services are actually doing: laborious, repetitive tasks that are designed to improve the automated interpretation of human speech. This means tasks tech giants have promised are completed by virtual assistants and artificial intelligence are trained by the monotonous work of people.

The work is magnified by the large footprint of speech recognition tools: Microsoft’s Cortana product, similar to Apple’s Siri, is implemented in Windows 10 machines and Xbox One consoles, and is also available as on iOS, Android, and smart speakers. The instruction manuals on classifying this sort of data go on for hundreds of pages, with a dizzying number of options for contractors to follow to classify data, or punctuation style guides they’re told to follow. The contractor said they are expected to work on around 200 pieces of data an hour, and noted they’ve heard personal and sensitive information in Cortana recordings. A document obtained by Motherboard corroborates that for some work contractors need to complete at least 200 tasks an hour. The pay for this work varies. One contract obtained by Motherboard shows pay at $12 an hour, with the possibility of contractors being able to reach $13 an hour as a bonus. A contract for a different task shows $14 an hour, with a potential bonus of $15 an hour. A Microsoft spokesperson told Motherboard in an emailed statement, “We’re always looking to improve transparency and help customers make more informed choices. Our disclosures have been clear that we use customer content from Cortana and Skype Translator to improve these products, we engage third party expertise to assist in this process, and we take steps to de-identify this content to protect people’s privacy.”

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