Goodbye Tourists, Hello Labelers How Samasource kept its data labelers safe from Covid-19

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2 min read
Series of pictures of hotels and resorts located in African countries

Covid-19 has cost many workers their livelihood, but it has provided a lucky few on the lowest rungs of Africa’s machine learning industry with luxury suites.

What’s new: Samasource, a data labeling company headquartered in San Francisco, California, is housing its East African workforce in hotels and resorts so they can continue to work while maintaining social distance, Wired reports.

How it works: The pandemic prompted strict lockdowns in Kenya and Uganda, where Samasource employs some 2,000 workers. Many live in communities with no internet connectivity. So the company put up its workforce in four internet-equipped hotels that were vacant amid the coronavirus-driven collapse of tourism.

  • Over half the company’s workforce in East Africa agreed to the arrangement. Employees each get a suite where they must remain throughout the workday. Housekeepers handle their laundry and nurses check their temperature daily.
  • Wired profiled data-labeler Mary Akol (pictured in one of the photos above), one of 140 employees staying at the four-star Ole Sereni hotel, which overlooks Nairobi National Park.
  • Workers there are allowed to leave their rooms at sunset to watch wildlife like rhinos, zebras, and giraffes from a terrace. They also engage in socially distanced group exercise. Akol has been teaching her co-workers salsa dancing — sans partners, of course.

Behind the news: Several companies are providing jobs that help feed both the AI industry’s hunger for data and underserved communities.

  • U.S.- and India-based iMerit has an all-female center in Kolkata that employs nearly 500 Muslim women who label computer vision data for companies like eBay, Microsoft, and TripAdvisor.
  • Based in New York, Daivergent hires people on the autism spectrum to label data and helps neurodivergent people find tech jobs.

Why it matters: Socially conscious outsourcing increases the tech industry’s talent pool by providing decent jobs to people who, because of geography, gender, race, or other factors, otherwise might be locked out.

We’re thinking: The grocery industry’s Fair Trade labels help consumers distinguish between socially responsible employers and their wage-slashing competitors. A similar measure for AI would foster both growth and diversity.


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