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[OPINION] The promise of technology is the promise of people

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[OPINION] The promise of technology is the promise of people

I would like for you to imagine the promise of technology. Facebook promises to be the gateway to your friends and family, ridesharing and delivery apps efficiency and connection against the grueling commute, your internet service provider cutting-edge reliability and speed. Sometimes, they even give you the promise of the world. When we strip away the allure of technology, what are we left with? A world of disconnect fueled by antagonism and shock that is filtered by content moderators, a non-solution to a systemic transportation crisis that leave us stories of drivers exploited, and aggravated calls on your internet plan. You haven’t quite been given the world — you can’t even connect to your meeting. 

I would like for you to imagine who is behind technology. These promises, delivered or not, are given to us by tech CEOs and eagerly embraced across the world. We hunger for solutions to age-old problems from communication, transportation, news, education, energy, and love — and are eager to receive engineered solutions to these. In turn, those wielding technology offer endless streams to support new entrepreneurs, startups, and products to move us towards wealth and prosperity, each one supposedly more innovative than the last.

Our lives continuously cede to these platforms: our memories live in Facebook albums or the cloud, the rise and fall of political movements can be witnessed online — sometimes excusing us from on-the-grounds participation, developments in artificial intelligence offer us quicker answers, and we favor the simplicity offered a tap away. A hyper-efficient world aided by machines seems to solve society’s ills, until it becomes a sickness in itself.

The invisible laborers behind technology

In truth, our technological futures are built atop of obscured human labor. A phenomenon termed as “ghost work” by anthropologist Mary L. Gray refers to “work performed by a human which a customer believes is being performed by an automated process.”

Take ChatGPT, a general-purpose chatbot released in November 2022 that provides text responses near-instantaneously. It can help you with anything: writing emails, synthesizing data, or even programming itself. 

No machine thinks for itself. Models like ChatGPT are only able to impress us because they build on the breadth of human work, and thus carry the constraints and failures that accompany it. This begins a questioning of this “breadth” in the first place: who designs these models (and their intent), the data these models are trained on, and how this data is classified — of which all steps involve humans.

Widely lauded, universities are rushing to find solutions to potential cheating aided by ChatGPT. College-educated workers, even programmers themselves, begin to worry about employment as their labor seems increasingly replaceable by machines, even if it’s just new labor under the hood that we’re bending towards. 

ChatGPT’s success can largely be attributed to its palatability. While chatbots are not new, the lack of obscenity and profanity in one is. Human input is present at every step of design. The best and worst of humanity is fed into language models (hence the previous issues with obscenity and extremism). Human-aided supervision and reinforcement learning guide these model’s outputs. To ensure ChatGPT was unlike its predecessors, OpenAI recruited an outsourcing firm in Kenya to help design a safer model. The process? To have these outsourced workers manually label examples of profanity, violence, and hate speech to be filtered out, in exchange for pay about $2 (P108) an hour.

This is not a far cry. The Global South has long endured these roles, becoming the invisible army that powers every impressive technology.

Take Facebook for instance, ubiquitous enough that there are countries that understand it as the internet itself. A study conducted by Helani Galpaya showed that more respondents across several countries (including the Philippines) self-reported being “Facebook users” than “internet users.” Meanwhile, Filipino content moderators under intensely-surveilled working conditions screen reports, exposing themselves to graphic sexual content, violence, and extremism on a daily basis. It is incredibly dehumanizing, mentally taxing work that many of us cannot fathom because we’ve never seen it. It is of our best interest to only see the light. It appears that those who gate the internet are often the most gated from the internet themselves.

Who gets to be called a technologist?

Millions of Filipinos enter Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), data-labeling, or content moderation jobs to support the technological infrastructure and rapid pace of “innovation.” Enticed with decent pay, often posted with little to no qualifications necessary, and done in recruitment hub hiring sprees, it’s hard to deny the opportunity to join the workforce and indulge in the industry’s economic promise. Silicon Valley startups (or even the Filipino “Sinigang Valley”) use the excuse of economic opportunity to justify remote outsourcing.

Even those not literally invisible are devalued with this mindset. Underexploited laborers act as the on-demand service providers beneath the shiny interfaces on our phones: our food delivery drivers, content moderators that clean our TikTok feeds, and support staff. Technology is something that can be summoned and controlled, people cannot be — or shouldn’t be.

After all, for technology to be consumable, it has to be palatable. Palatability involves shrouding the violent, intensive human labor needed to maintain technologies. This is why we are moved when we see the Facebook post of a delivery driver left to bear the brunt of canceled orders, wading through weather. Or with “older” technologies: how we turn a blind eye to ruthless production factories that power the fast fashion industry. It reminds us, for a brief moment, of the humanity in everything around us. Instead, companies continue to express technology as the stuff of magic. Perfectly cheap, efficient, and convenient. Then we are moved to hit checkout.

Even Silicon Valley’s model of classically educated laborers are no longer safe themselves. Microsoft has begun talks to invest $10 billion into OpenAI, while at the same time announcing layoffs for 10,000 workers. They are joined by Google and Amazon among others, all companies previously touted to push the boundaries of innovation. As we head towards a global economic downturn, it appears that this at-will treatment previously reserved for the global south now spares no one.

Tech workers, whether working as ride-share drivers, content moderators, or BS Computer Science-educated software engineers — must come together in solidarity with consumers against an industry that has historically erased its people. 

We need to call into question who the “technologists” that drive innovation are, especially when this innovation is at the expense of people. We need to recognize the breadth of forms that a technologist takes, and the truth that the massive forces of labor that write code, serve content, and protect us are continuously exploited. We need to know that maintaining a myopic view of the role of a “technologist” glorifies “technology” alone, detaching it from the human workforce that powers it. Without these laborers, these technologies would effectively be nothing. 

At the end of the day, technology is nothing but a tool. Technology is shaped by people, for people.

I’m not discounting technology’s potential for economic empowerment; I disparage how technology has been used as an exploitative force rather than a transformative one. It is time to reclaim technology and look towards its potential for hope — where this act of reclamation begins with power placed on all tech workers rather than the few.

I want a world where technology is used to put us in dialogue with one another, breaking down barriers instead of enacting more walls that hide us from one another. I want a world where machines don’t replace artists, but instead help more people make more art. I believe in a world where technology is a tool rather than the solution, where we have agency to use it as we please. I believe in a world where we think of people, first and foremost, not over-optimization and hyper-efficiency. I believe in a world where technology is a communal medium in which we can imagine better futures, where everyone is a technologist and engineer, not a tool wielded by the few. 

As technology is a tool, it is time for us to take it back. The truly magical part about technology is that it might be the most human thing about us. It is shaped by people, for people. – Rappler.com

Chia Amisola is Product Designer based in San Francisco, California who graduated with a BA in Computing and the Arts from Yale University in 2022. They are the founder of Developh and the Philippine Internet Archive.

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Early Facebook for Scousers that was the 'best thing ever'

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Early Facebook for Scousers that was the 'best thing ever'

Back in the noughties, Paul’s Boutique bags were at the height of fashion, Girls Aloud were named the winners of Popstars the Rivals and Mean Girls …

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San Benito County Sheriff’s Department stalls kidnapping by non-custodial parent

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Seal courtesy of San Benito County Sheriff's Office.

Stocken man allegedly fled with two children to avoid San Joaquin County Child Protective Services.

Information provided by San Benito County Sheriff’s Office Facebook Page

On March 24, the San Benito County Sheriff’s Office posted a news release on its Facebook page saying on March 23 Commander Yerena saw a suspicious vehicle near State Route 25 and San Felipe Road in Hollister and performed an enforcement stop. Checking records, he found the male driver had been reported missing from Stockton and the adult female passenger had a felony warrant.

Yerena found that the two children (11 and 13) also in the car had allegedly been abducted by the male who is their father but does not have custody.  He had allegedly fled with the children to avoid Child Protective Service (CPS) who had taken three other children into protective custody following the arrest of their mother in Stockton.

The children are in the custody of San Benito County CPS who are working to transfer the girls back to Stockton.

The male said he was “headed south” with the children but could not explain where they were going. The Sheriff’s Office is unaware of what charges the mother is facing or what charges San Joaquin County will pursue against the father.

San Benito County Sheriffs Department stalls kidnapping by non custodial parent

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Facebook layoffs: Former Meta recruiter claims she got paid $190,000 a year to do ‘nothing’

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Facebook layoffs: Former Meta recruiter claims she got paid $190,000 a year to do ‘nothing’

A former Meta recruiter has claimed that she made $190,000 a year for doing “nothing” at her job, amid the company’s recent layoffs.

In a recent video posted to TikTok, Maddie, @maddie_macho, reflected on her time working at Meta for six months during 2021. Her post was also shared only days after Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg announced Meta’s next round of layoffs, cutting more than 10,000 employees.

The clip, which was titled “Getting paid $190k to do nothing at Meta,” started off with the former job recruiter explaining how her company wasn’t hiring new workers while she was there.

“We weren’t expected to hire anybody for the first six months, even the first year,” she said. “That really blew my mind. Like ‘perfect, I’m just going to ride this out for a year, obviously I didn’t make that.’”

Regarding what she did all day, Maddie said that she was “learning”, as Meta had the “best onboarding and training” process that was “very thorough”.

She poked fun at how her “expectations” at the beginning of her job was to be “taking it all in”, before questioning some of the meetings she had to do.

“But the most that we did, this is the crazy part, is we had so many team meetings,” Maddie claimed. “Why are we meeting? We’re not hiring nobody. Just to hear how everyone else isn’t hiring anybody. And also, I was on a team where everyone was new, so none of us were hiring anybody.”

After noting that her co-workers and boss were just “trying to figure things out” at the job, she continued to make fun of her responsibilities at the company.

“I really miss it,” she added. “I wasn’t doing s*** pretty much. Um, that’s nice.”

In a follow up video, she shared why she got fired from Meta, after she first started working there in September 2021.  According to Maddie, when her TikTok video about the company’s benefits package went viral, people who worked at the company reached out to her and said that they loved it.

However, Maddie said that Meta wasn’t too pleased about the content on her account, as she claimed that she later got a write-up for posting on her story about how “challenging” her job could be. She claimed that while she stopped talking specifically about Meta, the company later went through “20 of her TikTok” videos and asked her if they thought they were “appropriate”. She said that she then decided to quit, a day before she was fired.

As of 17 March, Maddie’s videos have more than 210,400 views, with TikTok users in the comments poking fun at her time at Meta.

“See I wouldn’t have been telling anyone I wasn’t doing work lol,” one wrote.

“Getting paid 190k to do nothing is wild,” another added, while a third wrote: TEAM. MEETINGS…gotta block my damn calendar so I could have a day w/o meetings.”

Other people expressed how they could relate to Maddie’s work experience.

“I had the same experience for 4 months. Easiest paycheck ever lol,” one wrote.

“Same here!” another added. “I was making a lot of money at Amazon and didn’t hire anyone. Collected an $80k sign on and a volunteer severance.”

Earlier this week, Zuckerberg announced that more than 10,000 people were let go from Facebook and that Meta would also be leaving 5,000 empty jobs unfilled.

The business magnate said that at least some of those staff will be fired from Meta’s recruiting team and indicated that the others may be from non-engineering roles. He gave no indication of which staff may be let go and said affected staff would hear about their future in April and May.

He noted that the layoffs were part of a “restructuring” and Meta’s “year of efficiency” and that they may not be finished until the end of 2023.

“This will be tough and there’s no way around that,” he wrote in a memo to staff. “It will mean saying goodbye to talented and passionate colleagues who have been part of our success.”

This decision also came after the company already laid off about 11,000 people in November.

The Independent has contacted Maddie and a representative for Meta for comment.

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