Next time you hear about the wonderful future of self-driving cars, picture this: Venezuelans, living in crisis conditions after their economy collapsed, sitting at laptops and outlining pictures of trees and bikes so that the robotic vehicles don’t crash.
That was the situation in 2018, according to Florian A. Schmidt, a crowdwork expert and professor of design at HTW Dresden. “You have these formerly middle-class, well-educated, well-connected people with good internet infrastructure who suddenly dropped into poverty,” says Schmidt, who wrote a paper on this new labor market for the Hans Böckler Foundation, a research arm of the German trade union federation. (The paper was released in English this week.) Desperate for work, Venezuelans came across a new group of online crowdworking platforms. These companies—including Mighty AI, Playment, Hive, and Scale—cater to the autonomous vehicle industry and could be a new battleground in the debate over whether gig workers should be considered employees.
Hundreds of thousands of workers from Venezuela signed up to work for these companies last year, in some cases making up to 75 percent of a firm’s workforce. Even today, 75 percent of search traffic to Mighty AI comes from a site advertising jobs in Venezuela. The companies don’t pay more for data labeling than a platform like Amazon Mechanical Turk, but they do provide a steadier source of income, providing a measure of security for those in a country where inflation recently hit 10 million percent. (Mighty AI did not respond to a request for comment.)