The Offshore Team Powering Amazon’s AI

AI’s Human Crutch

Robots may remove some humans from their jobs, but AI will always need humans. It was recently revealed that Amazon’s celebrated AI-powered Just Walk Out technology in their stores relied on over 1,000 outsourced workers from India

Just Walk Out – equipped with cameras and sensors – claimed to revolutionize the supermarket experience by eliminating cashier counters, cashiers, and long customer queues.

Following accusations that the technology was bogus, the retailer clarified that workers were training the model’s algorithm by reviewing recorded video clips to ensure accuracy. They were not spying on the customers like security guards. 

Nevertheless, Amazon has removed Just Walk Out from Fresh grocery stores in the United States.

It’s a noble early attempt by Amazon – and reveals a lot about the role of humans in AI development.

How to train your AI

Experts claim Amazon’s system failed in the U.S. because of a low sample size. A long queue after a 40-minute shopping trip does not really hassle some people. Maybe Just Walk Out will work better at convenience stores, which are designed for mass consumers on the go. 

Just Walk Out’s AI did not have enough data to learn from. It had to rely on people offshore to label these datasets and add context so that the machine could synthesize and integrate them into its system.

Even if Just Walk Out shops in the U.S. welcome plenty of customers, a human would still need to correct it initially.

If there’s one thing we can learn from this experiment is that you can’t remove humans from the AI equation. Human-in-the-loop is a core part of AI training. 

Outsourcing’s critical role in AI

This is the life cycle of every new AI product. A new AI platform is infantile and ineffective until it has had significant human training. OpenAI was chastised in January 2023 when it was revealed that 1,000 offshore Kenyan workers were training the futuristic intelligence. As nascent AI develops, offshore workers would need to turn a knob or take over the job if things go awry.

This revelation sheds light on offshore workers’ critical role in AI’s development. Behind every new AI-equipped platform, there is a pack of outsourced employees working behind the scenes. 

Mind you, outsourcing does not just involve low-value and repetitive tasks. Several of those 1,000-strong workers from India are likely machine learning and AI engineers or are studying to be one. 

As we go deeper into the tech revolution, the role of offshore workers becomes more pivotal. AI is the future. But offshore workers are right there along with it.

Question for your business

Have you used human-in-the-loop systems?

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About Derek Gallimore

Derek Gallimore has been in business for 20 years, outsourcing for over eight years, and has been living in Manila (the heart of global outsourcing) since 2014. Derek is the founder and CEO of Outsource Accelerator, and is regarded as a leading expert on all things outsourcing.