How the AI Industry Profits from Catastrophe

The demand for data labeling in the artificial intelligence industry — tagging videos, sorting photos, and transcribing audio in order to train AI — has created a massive need for cheap labor, leading data-labeling platforms such as Appen to hire low-pay workers in countries like Venezuela, the Philippines, and Kenya to do these tasks. In this story, Karen Hao and Andrea Paola Hernández report on what it’s really like to do this “ghost work.”

Simala Leonard, a computer science student at the University of Nairobi who studies AI and worked several months on Remotasks, says the pay for data annotators is “totally unfair.” Google’s and Tesla’s self-driving-car programs are worth billions, he says, and algorithm developers who work on the technology are rewarded with six-figure salaries.

Meanwhile, the people who do “the most fundamental part of machine learning” are paid a pittance, he says. “Without the data labeled well, the models can’t predict properly.”

Published: Apr 20, 2022
Length: 21 minutes (5,457 words)

The Therapists Using AI to Make Therapy Better

“Ultimately, the approach may reveal exactly how psychotherapy works in the first place, something that clinicians and researchers are still largely in the dark about. A new understanding of therapy’s active ingredients could open the door to personalized mental-health care, allowing doctors to tailor psychiatric treatments to particular clients much as they do when prescribing drugs.”

Published: Dec 6, 2021
Length: 12 minutes (3,038 words)

How Facebook Got Addicted to Spreading Misinformation

“The company’s AI algorithms gave it an insatiable habit for lies and hate speech. Now the man who built them can’t fix the problem.”

Author: Karen Hao
Published: Mar 11, 2021
Length: 26 minutes (6,600 words)

One Man’s Quest to Hack His Own Genes

Biologist Brian Hanley is testing out gene therapy by injecting copies of a gene he has designed into his own body.

Published: Jan 10, 2017
Length: 10 minutes (2,550 words)

Rebooting the Automobile

Auto and tech companies are racing to bring safer and more useful smartphone-style interfaces to cars. Will CarPlay and Android Auto change the way we drive?

Published: Jul 1, 2015
Length: 11 minutes (2,971 words)

Meet the Dogged Researchers Who Try to Unmask Haters Online

Adrian Chen talks to journalists and researchers in Sweden who are trying to unmask anonymous commenters who leave hateful messages online. Questions about privacy arise.

Published: Dec 18, 2014
Length: 16 minutes (4,212 words)

The Thought Experiment

Brain-controlled prosthetics and computers may help paralyzed people in the future:

Scheuermann, who says that in her dreams she is not disabled, underwent brain surgery in 2012 after seeing a video of another paralyzed patient controlling a robotic arm with his thoughts. She immediately applied to join the study. During the surgery, doctors used an air gun to fire the two tiny beds of silicon needles, called the Utah Electrode Array, into her motor cortex, the slim strip of brain that runs over the top of the head to the jaws and controls voluntary movement. She awoke from the surgery with a pounding headache and “the worst case of buyer’s remorse.” She couldn’t believe she’d had voluntary brain surgery. “I thought, Please, God, don’t let this be for nothing. My greatest fear was that it wouldn’t work,” she says. But within days, she was controlling the robotic arm, and with unexpected success: “I was moving something in my environment for the first time in years. It was gasp-inducing and exciting. The researchers couldn’t wipe the smile off their faces for weeks either.”

Published: Jun 17, 2014
Length: 15 minutes (3,790 words)

A Tale of Two Drugs

A cancer drug offers no obvious advantages over an alternative drug, but is also twice as expensive. Why? The writer looks at how drug companies determine prices:

“Because of medical insurance, co-pay reductions, and expanded access programs for the uninsured, relatively few Americans pay more than a few thousand dollars per year for even the most expensive drugs. The primary customers in the United States are not patients or even individual physicians, although physicians can drive demand for a drug; rather, the customers are the government (through Medicare and Medicaid) and private insurance companies. And since the insurer or government is picking up the check, companies can and do set prices that few individuals could pay. In the jargon of economics, the demand for therapeutic drugs is ‘price inelastic’: increasing the price doesn’t reduce how much the drugs are used. Prices are set and raised according to what the market will bear, and the parties who actually pay the drug companies will meet whatever price is charged for an effective drug to which there is no alternative. And so in determining the price for a drug, companies ask themselves questions that have next to nothing to do with the drugs’ costs. ‘It is not a science,’ the veteran drug maker and former Genzyme CEO Henri Termeer told me. ‘It is a feel.'”

Published: Oct 22, 2013
Length: 18 minutes (4,609 words)

Dissent Made Safer

How anonymity technology could save free speech on the Internet.

Published: Jun 1, 2009
Length: 12 minutes (3,217 words)