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It was meant to be a temporary side job—a way to earn some extra money. Oskarina Fuentes Anaya signed up for Appen, an AI data-labeling platform, when she was still in college studying to land a well-paid position in the oil industry.

But then the economy tanked in Venezuela. Inflation skyrocketed, and a stable job, once guaranteed, was no longer an option. Her side gig was now full time; the temporary now the foreseeable future.

Today Fuentes lives in Colombia, one of millions of Venezuelan migrants and refugees who have left their country in search of better opportunities. But she’s trapped at home—both by a chronic illness that developed after delayed access to health care and by opaque algorithms that dictate when she works and how much she earns.

Despite threats from Appen to retaliate against her, she chose to go on the record as a named source. She wants people to understand what her life is like to be a critical part of the global AI development pipeline yet for the beneficiaries of her work to also mistreat her and make her invisible. She wants the people who do this work to be seen.

Appen is among dozens of companies that offer data-labeling services for the AI industry. If you’ve bought groceries on Instacart or looked up an employer on Glassdoor, you’ve benefited from such labeling behind the scenes. Most profit-maximizing algorithms, which underpin e-commerce sites, voice assistants, and self-driving cars, are based on deep learning, an AI technique that relies on scores of labeled examples to expand its capabilities. 

The insatiable demand has created a need for a broad base of cheap labor to manually tag videos, sort photos, and transcribe audio. The market value of sourcing and coordinating that “ghost work,” as it was memorably dubbed by anthropologist Mary Gray and computational social scientist Siddharth Suri, is projected to reach $13.7 billion by 2030.

Oskarina with her dog, Molly.
Despite threats from Appen to retaliate against her, Oskarina Fuentes Anaya chose to go on the record.JOANA TORO

Over the last five years, crisis-ridden Venezuela has become a primary source of this labor. The country plunged into the worst peacetime economic catastrophe facing a country in nearly 50 years right as demand for data labeling was exploding. Droves of well-educated people who were connected to the internet began joining crowdworking platforms as a means of survival.

“It was like a freak coincidence,” says Florian Alexander Schmidt, a professor at the University of Applied Sciences HTW Dresden who has studied the rise of the data-labeling industry. 

Venezuela’s crisis has been a boon for these companies, which suddenly gained some of the cheapest labor ever available. But for Venezuelans like Fuentes, the rise of this fast-growing new industry in her country has been a mixed blessing. On one hand, it’s been a lifeline for those without any other options. On the other, it’s left them vulnerable to exploitation as corporations have lowered their pay, suspended their accounts, or discontinued programs in an ongoing race to offer increasingly low-cost services to Silicon Valley.

“There are huge power imbalances,” says Julian Posada, a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto who studies data annotators in Latin America. “Platforms decide how things are done. They make the rules of the game.”

To a growing chorus of experts, the arrangement echoes a colonial past when empires exploited the labor of more vulnerable countries and extracted profit from them, further impoverishing them of the resources they needed to grow and develop.

Now, as some platforms are turning their attention to other countries in search of even cheaper pools of labor, the model could continue to spread. What began in Venezuela set an expectation among players in the AI industry for how little they should have to pay for such services, and it created a playbook for how to meet the prices that clients have come to rely on.

“The Venezuela example made so clear how it’s a mixture of poverty and good infrastructure that makes this type of phenomenon possible,” Schmidt says. “As crises move around, it’s quite

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By: Karen Hao, Andrea Paola Hernández
Title: How the AI industry profits from catastrophe
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2022/04/20/1050392/ai-industry-appen-scale-data-labels/
Published Date: Wed, 20 Apr 2022 10:00:00 +0000

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How Antarctica’s history of isolation is ending—thanks to Starlink

Mawson and sledge Adelie Land Antarctica 1912 scaled

“This is one of the least visited places on planet Earth and I got to open the door,” Matty Jordan, a construction specialist at New Zealand’s Scott Base in Antarctica, wrote in the caption to the video he posted to Instagram and TikTok in October 2023.

In the video, he guides viewers through an empty, echoing hut, pointing out where the men of Ernest Shackleton’s 1907 expedition lived and worked—the socks still hung up to dry and the provisions still stacked neatly in place, preserved by the cold.

Jordan, who started making TikToks to keep family and friends up to date with his life in Antarctica, has now found himself at the center of a phenomenon. His channels have over a million followers. The video of Shackleton’s hut alone has racked up millions of views from all over the world. It’s also kind of a miracle: until very recently, those who lived and worked on Antarctic bases had no hope of communicating so readily with the outside world.

Antarctica has long been a world apart. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, when dedicated expeditions began, explorers were cut off from home for years at a time, reliant on ships sailing back and forth from civilization to carry physical mail. They were utterly alone, the only humans for thousands of miles.

This made things difficult, emotionally and physically. With only the supplies they had on hand, explorers were limited in the scientific experiments they could conduct. They couldn’t send an SOS if they needed help (which was fairly often). And also—importantly, because many relied on publicity for funding—they couldn’t let the world know what was going on.

In 1911, an Australian expedition led by Douglas Mawson was the first to take an antenna to the continent and attempt to transmit and receive wireless signals. But while Mawson was able to send a few messages during the team’s first season, he never received any back, so he didn’t know if his had been successful.

The winds at their base at Cape Denison, on the Antarctic coast directly south of Australia, raged at 70 kilometers an hour—every day, every night, for months on end. They finally succeeded in raising the mast during their second winter, only to be faced with a different problem: their radio operator was unable to work, having suffered psychosis during the six months of darkness. So the expedition was left isolated again.

While Antarctic telecommunications have been steadily improving ever since the first permanent bases were established, many decades after Mawson’s ill-fated trip, life on the ice has always been characterized by some level of disconnection. And as life at home has become ever more dependent on constant connection, instant updates, streaming, and algorithms, living in Antarctica has been seen as a break—for better and for worse—from all the digital hustle-bustle.

But the end of that long-standing disparity is now in sight. Starlink, the satellite constellation developed by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX to service the world with high-speed broadband internet, has come to Antarctica, finally bringing with it the sort of connectivity enjoyed by the world beyond the ice.

Mawson and sledge Adelie
Douglas Mawson and his team had difficulty
raising a radio antenna during the expedition
they embarked on in 1911.
 a ticker tape parade for Admiral Byrd returning from Antartica in New York CityRead More

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By: Allegra Rosenberg
Title: How Antarctica’s history of isolation is ending—thanks to Starlink
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/26/1088144/antarctica-starlink-elon-musk-satellite-internet/
Published Date: Mon, 26 Feb 2024 10:00:00 +0000

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Trump wants to unravel Biden’s landmark climate law. Here is what’s most at risk.

GettyImages 1853587512 crop scaled

President Joe Biden’s crowning legislative achievement was enacting the Inflation Reduction Act, easily the nation’s largest investment into addressing the rising dangers of climate change.

Yet Donald Trump’s advisors and associates have clearly indicated that dismantling the landmark law would sit at the top of the Republican front-runner’s to-do list should he win the presidential election. If he succeeds, it could stall the nation’s shift to cleaner industries and stunt efforts to cut the greenhouse-gas pollution warming the planet.

The IRA unleashes at least hundreds of billions of dollars in federal subsidies for renewable energy sources, electric vehicles, batteries, heat pumps, and more. It is the “backbone” of the Biden administration’s plan to meet the nation’s commitments under the Paris climate agreement, putting the US on track to cut emissions by as much as 42% from 2005 levels by the end of this decade, according to the Rhodium Group, a research firm. 

But the sprawling federal policy package marks the “biggest defeat” conservatives have suffered during Biden’s tenure, according to Myron Ebell, who led the Environmental Protection Agency transition team during Trump’s administration. And repealing the law has become an obsession among many conservatives, including the authors of the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025, widely seen as a far-right road map for the early days of a second Trump administration.

The IRA’s tax credits for EVs and clean power projects appear especially vulnerable, climate policy experts say. Losing those provisions alone could reshape the nation’s emissions trajectory, potentially adding back hundreds of millions of metric tons of climate pollution this decade.

Moreover, Trump’s wide-ranging pledges to weaken international institutions, inflame global trade wars, and throw open the nation’s resources to fossil-fuel extraction could have compounding effects on any changes to the IRA, potentially undermining economic growth, the broader investment climate, and prospects for emerging green industries.

Farewell to EV tax credits

The IRA leverages government funds to accelerate the energy transition through a combination of direct grants and tax credits, which allow companies or individuals to cut their federal obligations in exchange for buying, installing, investing in, or producing cleaner power and products. It is enacted law, not a federal agency regulation or executive order, which means that any substantial changes would need to be achieved through Congress.

But the tax cuts for individuals pushed through during Trump’s time in office are set to expire next year. If he wins a second term, legislators seeking to extend those cuts could crack up the tax code and excise key components of the IRA, particularly if Republicans retain control of the House and pick up seats in the Senate. Eliminating any of those tax credits could help offset the added cost of restoring those Trump-era benefits.

Numerous policy observers believe that the pair of EV tax credits in the IRA, which together lop $7,500 off the cost of electric cars and trucks, would be one of the top targets. Subsidizing the cost of EVs polls terribly among Republicans, and throughout the primaries, most of the party’s candidates for president have fiercely attacked government support for the vehicles—none more than Trump himself. 

Close up of former President Trump pointing directly at camera while speaking at a campaign event in Iowa
Former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in Iowa.SCOTT OLSON/GETTY IMAGES

On the campaign trail, he has repeatedly, erroneously referred to the policy as a mandate rather than a subsidy, while geographically tailoring the critique to his audience.

At a December rally in Iowa, the nation’s biggest corn producer, he pledged to cancel “Crooked Joe Biden’s insane, ethanol-killing electric-vehicle mandate on day one.”

And in the battleground state of Michigan in September, he pandered to the fears of autoworkers.

“Crooked Joe is siding

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By: James Temple
Title: Trump wants to unravel Biden’s landmark climate law. Here is what’s most at risk.
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/26/1088921/trump-wants-to-unravel-bidens-landmark-climate-law-here-is-whats-most-at-risk/
Published Date: Mon, 26 Feb 2024 10:00:00 +0000

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The Download: Trump’s potential climate impact, and the end of cheap helium

This is today’s edition of The Download our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

Trump wants to unravel Biden’s landmark climate law. Here is what’s most at risk.

President Joe Biden’s crowning legislative achievement was enacting the Inflation Reduction Act, easily the nation’s largest investment into addressing the rising dangers of climate change.

Yet Donald Trump’s advisors and associates have clearly indicated that dismantling the landmark law would sit at the top of the Republican front-runner’s to-do list should he win the presidential election.

If he succeeds, it could stall the nation’s shift to cleaner industries and stunt efforts to cut the greenhouse-gas pollution warming the planet. The IRA’s tax credits for EVs and clean power projects appear especially vulnerable. But lots of other provisions could also come under attack. Read the full story.

—James Temple

The era of cheap helium is over—and that’s already causing problems

Helium is excellent at conducting heat. And at temperatures close to absolute zero, at which most other materials would freeze solid, helium remains a liquid. That makes it a perfect refrigerant for anything that must be kept very cold.

Liquid helium is therefore essential to any technology that uses superconducting magnets, including MRI scanners and some fusion reactors. Helium also cools particle accelerators, quantum computers, and the infrared detectors on the James Webb Space Telescope.

“It’s a critical element for the future,” says Richard Clarke, a UK-based helium resources consultant. However, it’s also played a critical role throughout the history of technology development, while remaining in tight supply.

As part of MIT Technology Review’s 125th anniversary series, we looked back at our coverage of how helium became such an important resource, and considered how demand might change in the future. Read the full story.

—Amy Nordrum

How Antarctica’s history of isolation is ending—thanks to Starlink

“This is one of the least visited places on planet Earth and I got to open the door,” Matty Jordan, a construction specialist at New Zealand’s Scott Base in Antarctica, wrote in the caption to the video he posted to Instagram and TikTok in October 2023.

In the video, he guides viewers through the hut, pointing out where the men of Ernest Shackleton’s 1907 expedition lived and worked.

The video has racked up millions of views from all over the world. It’s also kind of a miracle: until very recently, those who lived and worked on Antarctic bases had no hope of communicating so readily with the outside world.

That’s starting to change, thanks to Starlink, the satellite constellation developed by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX to service the world with high-speed broadband internet. Read the full story.

—Allegra Rosenberg

Wikimedia’s CTO: In the age of AI, human contributors still matter

Selena Deckelmann is the chief product and technology officer at the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that hosts and manages Wikipedia.

There she not only guides one of the most turned-to sources of information in the world but serves a vast community of “Wikipedians,” the hundreds of thousands of real-life individuals who spend their free time writing, editing, and discussing entries—in more than 300 languages—to make Wikipedia what it is today.

It is undeniable that technological advances and cultural shifts have transformed our online universe over the years—especially with the recent surge in AI-generated content—but Deckelmann still isn’t afraid of people on the internet. She believes they are its future. Read the full story.

—Rebecca Ackermann

The two stories above are from the next issue of MIT Technology Review, all about hidden worlds. It’s set to go live on Wednesday—subscribe now to get your copy!

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 The Supreme Court will decide whether states can control social media
It’ll start hearing arguments today about whether laws aimed at controlling online platforms in Texas and Florida are constitutional. (WP $)
Here’s what you need to know. (NYT $)
Texas’s law is dangerous. Striking it down could be even worse. (The Atlantic $)

2 Celebrities are being ‘deepfaked’ for adverts
AI-generated videos have them endorsing and promoting things they’ve never even heard of. (BBC)
These companies show why the next AI wave won’t revolve around chatbots. (Fast Company)

3 Inside TikTok’s live money-making machine
Live streaming can be hugely lucrative—for both the creator and TikTok

Read More

————

By: Charlotte Jee
Title: The Download: Trump’s potential climate impact, and the end of cheap helium
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/26/1088958/climate-impact-trump-cheap-helium/
Published Date: Mon, 26 Feb 2024 13:12:00 +0000

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