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Can you change the world with 12.5 euros a day?

Can you change the world with 12.5 euros?

07 April 2023

Authored by: Ivan Yamshchikov
Reviewed by: Greta Alliaj and Cristina Paca

Opinion Piece | 07 April 2023

On January 18th 2023, Time Magazine published a story that put ChatGPT back in the news. Anybody interested in Artificial and Natural Intelligence couldn’t miss a headline like that:  “Exclusive: OpenAI Used Kenyan Workers on Less Than $2 Per Hour to Make ChatGPT Less Toxic”. If you did not read this work, please, do. Here’s the link. You need to know and think about it since you are using Artificial Intelligence daily, which will hardly change in the foreseeable future. For example, this text that you are reading right now might have appeared in your newsfeed because a “recommendation algorithm” found it for you, or because you found it while searching for something online. Somebody developed and trained these algorithms, while somebody else labelled the data for this training. 

This is not the first publication from Time Magazine about those people that tend to remain invisible whenever AI is mentioned: data labellers. In February 2022, Time published another great piece, “Inside Facebook’s African Sweatshop“. You can probably get the main message from the headlines, but I encourage you to read both articles before returning to this text.  I know it’s a lot to ask – we live with constantly divided attention, which is worsened by permanent time deficit. Nevertheless, it’s time well spent.

I hope you followed my advice, but in case you did not, here are several vital facts. Big Tech outsources data labelling to countries with lower levels of income. Data labellers have to deal with horrible content. I cannot put it mildly. The articles mention “sexual abuse, bestiality, rape, sexual slavery, graphic detail of death, violence, or serious physical injury”. People who label this content get around 1.5 dollars an hour working at least nine hours daily. Their mental health suffers and they do not always get proper counselling. Let these facts sting because they should. If you read this from the comfort of your home or office desk, those things take time to sink in.

One of my favourite books of all time is “Factfullness” by the late Hans Rosling. I remember seeing his talk “The best stats you’ve ever seen” and feeling an incredible surge of hope. I read “Factfullness”, published after he passed away, and learned one important lesson: context matters. We are used to the context we live in. This includes every little detail of our daily routine: from the price of coffee to our vacation plans. This defines what we find funny and what we find offensive. If you want to understand something, you have to put it into context. If you want to understand something far from your daily experience, you must try to reconstruct the context relevant to the issue you are trying to understand. We, as a species, are terrible at this task. Yet we make swift moral judgments that might affect our decisions. Moreover, we make moral judgments predicated on our daily experience and rarely consider the consequences of those judgments for the people who live lives very different from ours. Since both articles mentioned Kenya, let’s talk about it. 

You probably heard about the Big Mac index. It is one of the ways to estimate purchasing power in different regions of the world. I could not find the Big Mac index for Kenya, but thanks to McDonald’s eternal nemesis, Burger King, I managed to find a Whopper Index, which is fine with me. A whopper costs 590 Kenyan shillings, which is approximately 4.35 euros. A whopper in the local Burger King in Leipzig will cost me 8.69. Nine hours a day for 1.5 dollars per hour makes something like 12 Euros and 50 cents daily for Kenyan data labellers. If we adjust that salary for Kenyan purchasing power (assuming that the same amount of money buys you twice as many whoppers in Nairobi than in Berlin), we get 25 euros a day. You can tell me that 25 euros are still not a lot of money, especially if the person has to get that money at the price of their mental health. What difference does it make? The difference is that now you might better understand the data labellers’ actual condition. What if we add one more data point to this context?

The United Nations’ World Food Programme estimates that between October and December 2022, almost three and a half million people in Kenya were facing emergency levels of food scarcity. Five per cent of the country’s population is “in urgent need of food assistance”’. 25 euros buys you more than eight kilos of rice in Germany. When a human being has to choose between starving or watching harmful content nine hours a day, the choice is a no-brainer. 

How about some more facts to put the news into perspective? 1.5 dollars an hour,  a nine-hour-day and a five-day work week pay a salary comparable to the one that members of the “most trained and highly skilled with tactics police” get in Kenya. According to data by Payscale, this is approximately what an administrative assistant or office administrator makes in Nairobi. It is also approximately a quarter of what a Member of a County Assembly makes

Yes, 1.5 dollars an hour is a meagre wage. Yes, data labellers should be entitled to help from mental health practitioners. Yes, we can do better and we need high-quality journalists to tell these stories. We need to know about them. However, to do better globally, we also need to put these stories into perspective and remember that the only thing that makes people choose between mental health and starvation is poverty. And nothing in the known human history lifts the global population out of poverty faster than an alliance of science, technology, and free market competition. How do we balance those aspects? Can we ensure that the benefits of AI could improve the human condition globally and eventually change the economic situation for data labelers as well?

One possible path forward is to use regulation on the developed markets to encourage global collaboration but under two major conditions. First, we need to advocate for fair wages and mental health support. Companies should be held accountable for the working conditions of their employees, regardless of where they are based. Second, we can invest a part of AI’s productivity surplus globally into education and training. Developing local talent is crucial for economic growth. This investment in education should be understood in a broader sense. Companies need global talent, but we also need global founders. Modern education should encourage innovation and entrepreneurship. By investing in education and vocational training, countries can create a skilled workforce that attracts higher-paying jobs and reduces poverty. If we do it right, we can change the world with twelve euros and fifty cents a day. It will be a long and bumpy ride, but it’s worth trying. 


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TechEthos game workshops: exploring public awareness & attitudes

TechEthos game workshops: exploring public awareness & attitudes
30 January 2023

Authored by: Greta Alliaj
Reviewed by: Cristina Paca

Article | 30 January 2022

What might a world in which technologies like the metaverse or neuroimaging have reached their full potential look like? What would it be like to live in a reality where such technologies are deployed in the most diverse fields, from education to justice, passing through marketing and entertainment? Imagine a world where neuroimaging is used to diagnose predispositions to certain neurological diseases. Such diagnosis could allow health professionals to better prevent a disease or decrease its impact on the patient, but at the same time, it could take a toll on people’s personal and professional relationships. Would you be in favour of implementing this technology?

Last autumn, hundreds of citizens across Europe took part in the Tech Ethos Science Cafés and engaged with scientists, innovators and civil society representatives to learn more about our three families of technologies. Now, the six science engagement organisations involved in the project are ready to build on this experience and invite all technology enthusiasts out there to play our new board game: The Tech Ethos game: Ages of Technology Impacts.

The TechEthos game is part of a longer workshop aimed at exploring the public’s attitudes towards Digital Extended Reality, Neurotechnologies and Climate Engineering. Participants will be invited to sit on their regional delegation to the Citizen World Council and decide what may be best for future generations and the Planet. Participants will forge the future starting from a set of technologies whose potential is not yet fully realised and each of their choices will have unforeseeable consequences.

Each round, players will be asked to discuss and agree on which technologies they would like to see further developed in their ideal future and, to do so, they will be confronted with the ethical implications of these choices. What will be the values and principles that will guide their decisions?

Throughout the different activities of the workshop, participants will have the opportunity to listen and learn from each other, express their concerns and defend their beliefs. This exchange will provide the project with insights into public attitudes and views on new and emerging technologies.

18 game workshops will take place in Austria, Czech Republic, Romania, Serbia, Spain, and Sweden. To capture a broader and richer perspective, the six science engagement centres will collaborate with associations supporting groups whose access to such activities is often hindered by economic and social factors.

Developed in co-creation with science engagement and game experts, the TechEthos game is essential in capturing ethical and societal values. This moves us closer to the project’s end goal, producing ethics guidelines that considers such values in the earliest phases of technology design and development.

Would you be interested in taking part in the conversation and shaping your ideal world? Have a look at our game resource page, keep an eye on the activities of TechEthos science engagement centres and follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

More about the game


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A Science & Technology chat over coffee

A Science & Technology chat over coffee
07 July 2022

Authored by: Greta Alliaj
Reviewed by: Cristina Paca

News | 07 July 2022

Science Cafés are a popular format that has been used for the past decades to provide a forum for discussion of current scientific issues for anyone who is interested. They are not meant to solely promote science but also to discuss and question the principles and consequences of scientific research and innovation.

June 2022 saw the start of a series of Science Cafés in the six science engagement organisations involved in the TechEthos project. From June to September, they will engage with hundreds of citizens in Austria, Czech Republic, Romania, Serbia, Spain, and Sweden.

There is really only one main rule for science cafés: they are informative, informal and fun for all those involved, reaching the widest possible audiences. Citizens are invited to discuss new and emerging technologies – more specifically the technology families that the project is focusing on: Climate Engineering, Digital Extended Reality, Neurotechnologies – with scientists, innovators, engineers or civil society. Invited speakers will illustrate not just the state of technological capabilities but also ethical, societal, and legal challenges or discussions, including how these relate to their own work, bringing a local and topical angle to the themes that TechEthos is addressing. For the project, Science Cafés are crucial in building knowledge about our technology families and spark an interest in the local communities for other project activities.

Science cafés can take place in cafés but also other special venues such as museums, galleries, bookshops and bars.

On 1 June, Vetenskap & Allmänhet (Sweden) held its first TechEthos activity as part of an evening ‘Climate Bar’ event at the National Museum of Science and Technology in Stockholm. During this event, the audience had the opportunity to learn more and discuss about the implications of new climate engineering technologies. Three invited experts presented two types of climate engineering technologies – Bio Energy Carbon Capture and Storage (Bio-CCS) and Solar Radiation Management (SRM) and addressed related issues.

News | 07 July 2022
VA’s Science Café at the Swedish National Museum of Science and Technology in Stockholm on 1 June 2022.
University, Photo: Vetenskap & Allmänhet

On 21 June, Parque de las Ciencias (Spain) inaugurated the new edition of its Café en el Jardín series with an event on the ethical implications of neurotechnologies. Together with neurology experts from the University of Granada and the University of Malaga, the audience addressed topical issues like the hyper connectivity between humans and machines, the risks to freedom of thought and the implications of neural implants.

News | 07 July 2022
Parque de las Ciencias’ Café en el Jardin in Granada on 21 June 2022. Photo : Parque de las Ciencias Twitter post 21 June 2022

So, will you order some science with your coffee? Learn more about the science engagement organisations that are running the science café series.


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Introducing the TechEthos technology families

Introducing the TechEthos Technology families
21 December 2021

Authored by: Andrea Porcari, Gustavo Gonzalez, Daniela Pimponi
Reviewed by: Andrew Whittington-Davis and Nuala Polo

News | 21 December 2021

Based on a wide-ranging horizon scanning of new and emerging technologies, TechEthos selected three families of technologies that are expected to have disruptive socio-economic and ethical implications: Climate Engineering, Extended Digital Reality, and Neurotechnologies. TechEthos will use them as models to explore the interaction of technologies with the planet, the digital world, and the human body to develop operative ethics-by-design guidelines for researchers and innovators. 

New and emerging technologies are changing all aspects of our lives, from our habits, to how we live, take care and cure ourselves, how we interact and communicate with others, and how society is organised and developed. These revolutionary technologies can bring benefits, but at the same time, raise new risks and concerns. How can we guarantee that these technologies will not adversely surprise us in a few years? What regulates the development of new and emerging technologies and their applications? At TechEthos, our focus is to address such questions by developing ethics-by-design guidelines that will ensure that ethical principles and values are embedded during the design and development of new and emerging technologies because, after all, anticipating such risks and concerns can help avoid or mitigate future undesirable outcomes. 

Our selection process

The selection of these three technology families is based on a horizon scanning process carried out during the first phase of the TechEthos project. We systematically analysed and compared the findings of authoritative and up-to-date studies that address similar technological interests, allowing us to identify a set of new and emerging technologies with high socio-economic impact and significant ethical dimensions. This analysis also provided valuable insights that helped us identify criteria for defining and assessing the potential socio-economic impacts of these technologies, supported by expert consultations, online surveys, interviews, and workshops. From here, we were able to cluster technologies into a set of technology families, according to their shared functions, applications, time-to-market, economic, ethic, public, policy and legal impacts 

Our choice

The selected three technology families all have a high potential to cause disruption socio-economically and ethically and focus on overcoming existing social concerns. These points of contact were widely addressed and debated during the different steps of the TechEthos horizon scanning process. Such matters were mainly based on how new and emerging technologies can affect the use and access to natural resources, how they can be used to modify our atmosphere, how individuals might interact with and use cutting-edge digital technologies to alter their real-world environments, or how people can understand and modify brain functions through novel technological strategies. These and other considerations were the foundations on which TechEthos made its selection:  

    • Climate Engineering (also known as geoengineering) technologies can help mitigate anthropogenic climate change on a local and worldwide scale and detect and respond to global threats due to the climate crisis. They represent a group of technologies that can act on the Earth’s climate system by reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and other anthropic emissions or directly change physical or chemical processes in the biosphere to achieve direct climate control. This technology family includes, for example, carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) technologies can help reduce cumulative anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, which poses significant consequences to the planet’s temperature regulation. Solar geoengineering technologies are another example, raising the possibility of modifying the biosphere’s interaction with solar radiation by creating a dense cloud of particles in the stratosphere to reflect part of the solar radiation. Despite their high research and industrial relevance, key ethical concerns arise around these technologies: who can access these technologies? Will they have local or global effects, who will decide about their implementation, and what could be the environmental consequences of their applications?  
    • Digital Extended Reality technologies combine advanced computing systems (hardware and software) that can change how people connect with their surroundings through virtual (VR) and augmented (AR) and mixed (MR) realities. Through these immersive technologies, people can access virtual worlds remotely from any place and interact through digital avatars. Connecting people worldwide can be beneficial; for example, to train employees and provide new services to customers, or universities and schools can use this technology for educational purposes. However, many questions circle around this technology family: will they monitor our behaviour in such virtual environments? Will they be safe? Who will have access to it? Digital Extended Reality also includes AI-based technologies focused on recognising, processing and emulating human cognitive functions (e.g., voice, gesture, movement, emotions, psychological dispositions) and how these can be used to replace, nudge and influence human actions. For example, Natural Language Processing (NLP) algorithm is used to process and analyse vast quantities of human language information (e.g., voice, text, emotional data) to profile people and create targeted online advertising. This algorithm profiling could use personal and non-explicitly authorised data from users (e.g., from social networks), and people might be persuaded to avoid acting freely on the internet not to be negatively categorised, a phenomenon known as the “chilling” effect. NLP can be used to imitate human interaction, and for example, could even imitate deceased people virtually. Other examples of ethical repercussions of digital extended reality technologies include monitoring and surveillance, privacy, security, and sensible data management. 

    • Neurotechnologies represent a group of technologies used for directly monitoring, assessing, mediating, manipulating, and emulating the human brain’s structure, functions, and capabilities. These technologies offer possibilities to improve health and well-being. They are expected to change existing medical practices and redefine clinical and non-clinical monitoring and interventions. For example, patients with degenerative motor conditions can be treated efficiently using neuro-devices, enabling neuron regeneration by stimulating certain brain zones and helping them overcome such critical situations. Such neuro-devices are still an object of research for treating Parkinson’s, patients who have suffered a stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, severe trauma, and other ailments. Nevertheless, neurotechnologies raise concerns about personal data privacy management, integrity and responsibility, access to these systems, and potential off-label and misuse of such technologies.  

    Following the TechEthos horizon scanning and technology selection, the next step will be to perform an in-depth analysis of the ethical, policy, and legal implications and obtain a deep societal understanding of the perception of these technologies families from researchers, industry actors, policymakers, and citizens. This analysis will inform the development of ethical and legal frameworks and support the creation of operational guidelines to assist the research community in integrating ethical concerns and societal values into research protocols and technology design and development. 

    To learn more about TechEthos follow the project on Twitter and LinkedIn,  and sign up to the project newsletter. By joining the online community, you will be first in line to discover the technologies the project selects as the focus of its work and contribute to shaping the technologies of the future.


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