AI promises jobs revolution but first it needs old-fashioned manual labour from China


China also wants the higher-skilled jobs resulting from the application of AI, which encompasses a wide range of technologies that can perform tasks characteristic of human intelligence, such as understanding language and recognising objects.

Rows of mostly young women sit elbow-to-elbow in cheap chairs at this five-storey, Soviet-style factory building on the outskirts of Beijing, staring at their computer screens. Some bring their own cushions for back support. They spend their shifts viewing images from everyday life and “tagging” them with dots, lines and descriptions.

Welcome to ground level for artificial intelligence, the arrival of which has been dubbed the fourth industrial revolution with the promise of freeing humans up from repetitive, mind-numbing work. But before this utopian promise can be fulfilled, a lot of monotonous work still has to be performed – by humans – and increasingly by humans in China.

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