ECONOMY

How « Humans in the Loop » is making the digital remote work economy more inclusive amidst COVID-19

by Iva Gumnishka and Namrata Yadav
Covid-19 has brought out glaring inequalities in and around the world. The adverse effects on economies worldwide and the under-preparedness of countries have also drawn attention to the ignored vulnerable groups such as low skilled workers and migrant workers. 
 
195 million jobs have been estimated to be lost worldwide as a result of Covid- 19. Out of this, 2 billion people working in the informal sector are the low skilled who have been left without aid for survival against Covid. 

 

In these times, Internet and remote work have appeared as the saviour for thousands of companies in ensuring the uninterrupted continuation of business operations and have accelerated the move towards a digital economy. Yet, like many other solutions presented against Covid- 19, this too leaves vulnerable groups behind.

 

Even though the Internet has become a public good, telecommuting is an option primarily for people with resources and skilled jobs. Due to low digital literacy, lack of a computer or internet connectivity at home, and ultimately the nature of their occupations, lower skilled workers have not been able to transition to remote online work.

The World Bank has estimated that as a result of the coronavirus threat, 49 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty. It is no surprise that with telecommuting becoming popular, the low- skilled devoid of such knowledge and opportunity have been left to fend for themselves.

 

The alternative options for freelance work are also very limited, since most freelance marketplaces are saturated with entry level candidates. The skills gaps across all industries are poised to grow in the Fourth Industrial Revolution and leave behind the low skilled.  Covid- 19 has only aggravated the already existing threat of lower wages and unemployment for the low skilled. 
 
The early ‘digitisation’ of economy  induced by Covid-19 has yet again exacerbated inequality, and added to the disadvantages of the vulnerable rendering them jobless.

 

This is where Humans in the Loop, a social enterprise based in Bulgaria, is working to make a difference and ensure that the vulnerable communities not only have access to remote jobs but also remain relevant in the new economy.

 

Founded in 2017, Humans in the Loop (HITL) has built a workforce of refugees and displaced persons working hand in hand with artificial intelligence. With 250 people in Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria and Iraq, HTL has a community of conflict-affected people working to power exciting applications of AI through dataset collection, annotation, and verification.

 

Workers receive training and remote work tasks which are very easy and accessible and their work is used in computer vision applications by HITL clients such as DaedaleanAlcatraz.aiImagga and more.

 

The training program is designed to build basic computer literacy and upskill workers gradually as they start to complete more and more difficult projects. The work consists of  collecting, sorting, annotating, and categorising data and images to fuel algorithms that run AI software. 
 
It does not require prior knowledge of the English language or computer skills. This process has enabled people to become a part of the digital remote work economy and become an active part in the human-computer interaction.

 

Besides displaced persons, the model has emerged as a fitting job opportunity for people looking to earn money from home such as stay-at-home parents or caretakers for other family members. HITL is now struggling to respond to all incoming inquiries by people from around the world, and to ensure none of its own workforce is left behind.

 

A problem that was most acutely felt by conflict-affected people is now affecting many more people and HITL is looking into ways to expand and replicate its model to help other organisations assist individuals at risk, as well as to collaborate more closely with an ecosystem of similar organisations, such as TransformifyPaz.aiTaqaddamNatakallamWorkAround Online, etc.

 

By tapping into the high potential and underutilised workforce of young and low-skilled people, businesses can revise their upskilling models and bridge the growing digital gap.  It is the state’s responsibility to ensure that widespread unemployment amongst the low skilled is not a by- product of Covid- 19. 
 
The Bulgarian enterprise is an exemplary model demonstrating the underestimated potential of the low-skilled. With the spirit of inclusion behind this model, HITL is determined to ensure a place for the low-skilled in this new post-Covid-19 digital economy era.

 

 

Iva Gumnishka is CEO at Humans in the Loop.

Namrata Yadav is an intern at Humans in the Loop.