Current debates concerning artificial intelligence (AI) focus on the integrity of claiming an application-generated output as a person’s work or substituting human knowledge workers with computer systems.

In the spectrum of ethical issues concerning AI, the exploitation of freelance workers in the digital underground economy mushrooming in the Global South was recently flagged in an Aug. 28, 2023 report uploaded on

In “Behind the AI boom, an army of overseas workers in ‘digital sweatshops,’” Rebecca Tan and Regine Cabato of The Washington Post reported that more than 2,000 Filipinos carry out the “crowdwork,” converting data needed for AI tools to carry out the tasks traditionally performed only with human intelligence.

In technology, the quality of the output relies on the input being processed. The manual work of converting raw data to the large data sets required by AI is termed as “ghost work” by anthropologist Mary Gray and computational social scientist Siddharth Suri, according to the Apr. 20, 2022 report, “How the AI industry profits from catastrophe,” by Karen Hao and Andrea Paola Hernandez for the two-part MIT Technology Review series on AI colonialism.

Crowdwork and ghost work refer to tasks undertaken by workers in the Global South who are exploited on the caprices of AI companies in Silicon Valley.

The market value of sourcing and coordinating ghostwork may reach $13.7 billion by 2030, as estimated in the first part of the MIT Technology Review series.

Yet, in the Philippines, considered by The Washington Post as “one of the world’s biggest destinations for outsourced digital work,” the “taskers” earn less than minimum wage and are subjected to other unfair labor practices, such as delayed payment, missing pay, termination without cause, deactivation of accounts after a worker complains about work conditions, etc.

Ironically, taskers in Venezuela and North Africa perceive that their counterparts in the Philippines and Europe are not as mistreated as they are. The MIT Technology Review and The Washington Post separately interviewed taskers engaged by a platform called Remotasks, “owned by the $7 billion San Francisco startup Scale AI.”

According to the MIT Technology Review article, taskers perennially worry that “platforms can move” to another country. Competing with other nationalities is not the biggest worry. At home, taskers are recruited from among the most vulnerable workers in the informal economy: “low-income youth, refugees, people with disabilities.”

People take on low-paid jobs, rationalize exploitation, and speak to journalists only on conditions of anonymity, fearing retaliation and loss of work.

Informal workers propping up the AI industry need the state to look out for their welfare. However, it is not just Silicon Valley employers or subcontractors that render the AI taskers invisible; the government will not intervene for those who fall through the interstices of formal, traditional industries.

After The Washington Post presented their findings on the exploitation of Filipino AI taskers, officials of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) said they were unsure how to regulate an informal sector. The DICT is mandated to regulate technology.

Social changes and instability increase the dependence of taskers on crowdwork or ghost work. The global coronavirus pandemic, political unrest and armed conflict destabilizing Mindanao, and economic upheavals upending Venezuelan society tighten the noose on knowledge workers who chafe against their exploitation but still cling to the oppression for survival.

Pinned by economic need and absence of political will in their government to fight for their rights, AI taskers join those condemned to the twilight world, referred to by the MIT Technology Review as the “new colonial world order” built on digital labor exploitation by AI companies.