A group of young Kenyan workers who were hired by a local company to train OpenAI’s chatbot, ChatGPT, have petitioned the National Assembly to inquire into their welfare and conditions of service.
They claim that they were exposed to harmful and graphic content without proper support or compensation, and that they have developed severe mental illnesses as a result.
ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence chatbot that interacts with people in a conversational way. It was introduced by OpenAI, an American research company, in November 2022. According to OpenAI’s website, ChatGPT is trained using reinforcement learning from human feedback, which means that it learns from the responses of human trainers who provide conversations in a dialogue format.
The petitioners, Richard Mwaura Mathenge, Mophat Ochieng Okinyi, Alex Mwaura Kairu and Bill Kelvin Mulinya, say that they were engaged by Samasource Kenya, a company registered in Kenya that was outsourced by OpenAI to provide the workforce for training ChatGPT.
They say that they were not properly informed of the nature of the work they would be undertaking, which involved reading and viewing material that depicted sexual and graphic violence and categorizing it accordingly so that ChatGPT’s artificial intelligence could learn it for purposes of its future interactions with people.
“Examples of the content that we were exposed to includes; acts of bestiality, necrophilia, incestuous sexual violence, rape, defilement of minors, self-harm (e.g. suicide), murder just to mention a few,” the petition reads.
The petitioners say that they were not afforded psychosocial support throughout the contract, and that they have developed severe mental illnesses including PTSD, paranoia, depression, anxiety, insomnia, sexual dysfunction, among others. They also say that the contract between OpenAI and Sama was terminated abruptly, and that they were sent home despite their condition.
The petitioners accuse OpenAI and Sama of exploiting them and violating their constitutional rights to fair labour relations, fair remuneration, reasonable working conditions, health and protection from exploitation. They also allege that the outsourcing model is commonly used by big technological companies based in the United States to export harmful and dangerous work to Kenyan youth who are paid poorly and disposed of at will.
The petitioners are seeking an inquiry by the National Assembly into their welfare and conditions of service, as well as compensation for the damages they have suffered.
They are also calling for the enactment of laws and policies that will protect Kenyan workers from exploitation and abuse in the digital economy.