US startup hires African refugees to train AI

Tech nonprofit REFUNITE has launched LevelApp, an algorithm training app which enables refugees to earn instant money by helping the firm train AI models


REFUNITE, a nonprofit focused on "helping refugees and internally displaces persons search for their missing loved ones" has launched a new app called LevelApp, which aims to help refugees use their phones to earn cash. The firm plans to do this by paying the displaced cash in exchange for them training algorithms used for AI model.

The California-headquartered firm is trialing the app in Uganda where latest UN figures claim there are up to 1.4 million refugees. These refugees earn on average around $1.25 a day for the myriad of menial tasks they pick up when they can. However, with the LevelApp, these same people will be able to earn up to $20 a day.

AI algorithm training can involve a lot of repetitive but very simple work labeling and categorizing images and detecting patterns. While very easy for a human being to do, as AI models require so much data to function, it can be incredibly time and cost intensive, especially for smaller companies to perform in-house.

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Because of the simplicity of the tasks involved and their inherent value to firms, companies have begun going low-tech with their solutions and simply hiring members of the public to help them do it. In October, a Silicon Valley-based startup called Hive did exactly this and announced plans to hire 600,000 people across the US to help it label images for AI models at pennies an image.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, there are currently more than 68.5 million people around the world who have been uprooted by the effects of war, racial, religious or political persecution, and climate change. REFUNITE is attempting to create a win-win situation for both these displaced individuals and companies looking to save money.

"This provides refugees with a foothold in the global gig economy," explained REFUNITE co-chief executive Chris Mikkelsen.

This means refugees will be able to better support themselves by using the money earned through the app to buy better food and healthcare, as well as provide a better education for their children. This lessens their individual dependency on charities and aid programs, allowing them to recover quicker. It also provides the individuals taking part with digital skills which will only become more necessary in coming years.

REFUNITE is trailing the program with 5,000 refugees primarily from South Sudan and The Democratic Republic of Congo regions. The tech nonprofit's goal is to scale up to 25,000 refuges within the next two years. 


Image source Anes Sabitovic

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