As US-based billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk and his ilk race against time to perfect self-driving cars tests, most of the donkey work is often passed on to penny-per-hour workers based in third-world countries like Kenya.
For two years now, Alfred (who sought anonymity), has been waking up early and going to bed late in a bid to raise some income. Using a laptop he bought while studying at the University of Nairobi, he was tasked with labelling images on highways that teach self-driving cars the kind of obstacles to avoid.
Initially, the Agribusiness graduate noted that he would make a sizeable income of about Ksh10,000 a week on a good day but was often concerned about the extreme fluctuations in income that, on a bad week, would sink as low as Ksh1,000.
The company he is attached to, Remotasks, has a global membership of over 100,000 youth and Alfred has personally interacted with 50 who are based in Kenya.A screenshot of a person performing a task on Remotasks.
“I have performed the tasks since 2019 September. The income you make varies. At first, the platform had good money but has since deteriorated. I used to spend 10 hours a day, 7 days a week working.
“I was forced into that line of work due to high unemployment rate across the country,” stated Alfred.
He noted that the induction exercise on what is expected in the line of work can take somewhere between two weeks and a month and mostly involves a colleague known to you offering the lessons.
The platform also has a separate category of trainers known as 'boot camps' who offer lessons to interested individuals and are paid by the company as per the number of heads trained.
After successful training, the job veers around identifying and marking mundane objects such as streetlights, trees and pedestrians among others so that the autonomous vehicles can identify them.
Alfred was grateful that the job provided an opportunity for him to make money even as the economy continues to get a beating from the Covid-19 pandemic that temporarily brought the globe to a standstill.
The advantage with the job is that most of the payment is remitted in dollars through PayPal and with the Kenya shilling continuously performing poorly against the dollar, hitting an all-time high of Ksh108, Alfred was always assured of a good return upon exchange.
The income contributed to Ksh341 billion which Kenyans abroad sent into the country in 2020, an increase from Ksh308 billion remitted the previous year.
These task executors are at the bottom of the self-driving cars pyramid whose multinationals have pumped trillions of shillings with the aim of rendering human drivers in the motor world obsolete.
According to Rest of the World, a global media company, the global obsession with self-driving cars began in 2010 and Google Company joined the bandwagon by investing Ksh100 billion into their development.
How it works
Sites like Remotasks, just like Academic Writing which was exposed by leading US broadcaster CBS, involve clients who provide tasks to the workers and also hire separate fact checkers who ensure that the tasks return with minimum errors.
The clients provide images and videos that were captured during a test run and the workers are expected to properly label the identities of the mundane items. Through the process, the algorithms under development have the opportunity to learn the difference between a building, a pedestrian as well as trees.
The companies, which operate in countries such as Kenya, Venezuela and Phillipines, pay Ksh100 per hour. The figure may vary depending on the size of errors found in completed tasks as well as the time it took an individual worker to turn the work in.
The new frontier is quickly gaining momentum locally after CBS exposed academic writing noting that Kenyans made billions through American students who pay youthful graduates to write their exams and perform assignments.
The Kenyan writers are normally given the login details to the student portals for learners in the US and in the UK. They then study for the exams and eventually take online exams on their behalf.
Some of the less experienced writers from Kenya pay their experienced colleagues to open accounts on different websites where they hire different writers to write for them for a smaller pay.
The American students pay about Ksh2,000 to about Ksh5,000 per page, but the account holders take about a 75 per cent cut on the pay, paying their writers between Ksh500 and Ksh1200 per page (about 275 words).
So widespread is the practice that intermediary websites sprung up to connect US students directly to Kenyans for easier transactions.
Below is the video of CBS expose on academic writing:
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