Google Terminates Contract with Appen, Impacting AI Training Industry
In a recent development, Google has terminated its contract with Appen, an Australian data company that was involved in training its large language model AI tools for products like Bard and Search. This decision comes amid increasing competition in the development of generative AI tools. Google spokesperson Courtenay Mencini stated, “Our decision to end the contract was made as part of our ongoing effort to evaluate and adjust many of our supplier partnerships across Alphabet to ensure our vendor operations are as efficient as possible.”
Appen, notified through a filing to the Australian Securities Exchange, expressed that it had no prior knowledge of Google’s decision. Human workers at companies like Appen often handle critical aspects of training AI, and Appen contractors, responsible for rating data quality and AI model responses, play a crucial role in the industry.
Last year, members of the Alphabet Workers Union at Appen petitioned for wage increases, reaching $15 an hour, but the final agreed-upon number fell short. Subsequently, many workers were laid off, citing business conditions. Appen, which has also trained AI models for Microsoft, Meta, and Amazon, noted in its filing that Google’s work significantly impacted its revenue, contributing $82.8 million in the fiscal year 2023 out of a total of $273 million.
Google spokesperson Mencini assured that the transition with Appen is being handled closely to ensure smoothness. This move reflects a broader trend in the industry, as seen with Accenture employees, another Google contractor, who joined the Alphabet Workers Union after refusing to handle objectionable content for the Bard chatbot.
Beyond Google, challenges persist in the industry, exemplified by content moderators in Kenya suing Sama and Meta for inadequate pay while handling disturbing images and videos at $2.20 an hour.
Opinion: The termination of the contract between Google and Appen highlights the complex relationship between technology giants and their contracted workers. It also sheds light on the growing demand for fair compensation and working conditions in the AI training industry. As the industry continues to evolve, it is crucial for companies to prioritize the well-being of their workers and ensure ethical practices in AI development.