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Digital ghost work: human presences in AI transformations 
Roger Andre Søraa (NTNU)
Yana Boeva (University of Stuttgart)
Hendrik Heuer (University of Bremen )
Milagros Miceli (Weizenbaum Institute)
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Traditional Open Panel

Short Abstract:

This panel engages in discussions of the sociotechnical transformations that AI brings to working life, creating new digital paradigms and epistemic cultures of “ghost work.” We aim to critically examine the obscured labor and the profound implications of advancements in AI.

Long Abstract:

The advent of AI not only transforms working paradigms but also reframes epistemic cultures and the very nature of labor. This panel dives into these profound transformations to critically scrutinize how different types of AI are impacting labor sectors and the multifaceted implications accompanying AI advancements. A central topic we seek to explore revolves around the concept of "ghost work" (Gray & Suri 2019)—where work is seemingly done invisibly by technology, but have indeed humans present but hidden in the machines. Therefore, we ask: To whom is this work truly ghostly? What about human agency in machine worlds? What historical entanglements of "ghost work" with colonial legacies and labor exploitation can be found? What constitutes fair structuring of societal organization when AI systems thrive on obscured labor?

By elevating voices and perspectives of so-called ghost workers, we aim to demystify the values inherent in such roles. While the term "ghost work" often carries problematic relations, there lie potential tangible benefits within these roles. The challenge lies in retaining the merits of such work while addressing inherent issues. As we enter/approach a new era where generative AI platforms like ChatGPT render every user a potential contributor of training data, we must also craft a vocabulary to articulate the emergent forms of ghost work.Moreover, there's a pressing need to spotlight "unwitting ghost work"—instances where individuals' creations are unwittingly harnessed to train foundation models.

How can the STS community investigate those whose labor is inadvertently obscured, erases, or co-opted? Drawing inspiration from critical ethnographic scholarship on AI and digital platforms, we recognize that human engagement with automated systems persists in concealed forms. This panel invites submissions that unearth instances of human labor in AI transformations. We aspire to chart a comprehensive map of "ghost work" and its kin.

Accepted papers:

Session 1
Session 2