And a recent paper from academics at Princeton University and Cornell University called out data-labelling companies like Scale AI Inc. and Sama Inc. who pay workers in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa $8 a day. Sure, that’s a living wage in those regions but long-term it also perpetuates income inequality. A spokeswoman for Sama said the company has helped more than 55,000 people lift themselves out of poverty, and that higher local wages could negatively impact local markets, leading to higher costs for food and housing. Scale AI did not respond to a request for comment.

“Microwork comes with no rights, security, or routine and pays a pittance — just enough to keep a person alive yet socially paralyzed,” writes Phil Jones, a researcher for the British employment think tank Autonomy, adding that it is disingenuous to paint such work as beneficial to a person’s skills. Data labelling is so monotonous that Finland has outsourced it to prisoners.

Improving the employment status of these workers would make their lives better and also improve AI’s development, since feeding algorithms with inconsistent data can hurt future performance. Foxglove’s Crider says Facebook needs to make its content moderators full-time staff if it really wants to fix its content problems (most of them work for agencies like Accenture plc.). The Princeton and Cornell researchers say labelers need a more visible role in the development of AI and more equitable pay.

One glimmer in the darkness: Freelancers who do microtasks on Amazon’s MTurk platform have recently been holding worker forums to approach Amazon on issues like rejected work, according to one of their representatives. They aren’t creating a union per se, but their work is a unique attempt at organizing, giving AI’s ghost workers a voice they haven’t had until now. Here’s hoping the idea catches on more broadly.

Parmy Olson is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering technology. She previously reported for the Wall Street Journal and Forbes and is the author of "We Are Anonymous."

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