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Making Data Work Count

Chandhiramowuli, S., Taylor, A. S. ORCID: 0000-0001-6311-3967, Heitlinger, S. ORCID: 0000-0001-6148-350X & Wang, D. (2024). Making Data Work Count. Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction, 8(CSCW1), pp. 1-26. doi: 10.1145/3637367


In this paper, we examine the work of data annotation. Specifically, we focus on the role of counting or quantification in organising annotation work. Based on an ethnographic study of data annotation in two outsourcing centres in India, we observe that counting practices and its associated logics are an integral part of day-to-day annotation activities. In particular, we call attention to the presumption of total countability observed in annotation - the notion that everything, from tasks, datasets and deliverables, to workers, work time, quality and performance, can be managed by applying the logics of counting. To examine this, we draw on sociological and socio-technical scholarship on quantification and develop the lens of a 'regime of counting' that makes explicit the specific counts, practices, actors and structures that underpin the pervasive counting in annotation. We find that within the AI supply chain and data work, counting regimes aid the assertion of authority by the AI clients (also called requesters) over annotation processes, constituting them as reductive, standardised, and homogenous. We illustrate how this has implications for i) how annotation work and workers get valued, ii) the role human discretion plays in annotation, and iii) broader efforts to introduce accountable and more just practices in AI. Through these implications, we illustrate the limits of operating within the logic of total countability. Instead, we argue for a view of counting as partial - located in distinct geographies, shaped by specific interests and accountable in only limited ways. This, we propose, sets the stage for a fundamentally different orientation to counting and what counts in data annotation.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution International 4.0 License. © 2024 Copyright held by the owner/author(s).
Publisher Keywords: accountability, artificial intelligence, counting, data annotation, data work, global south, quantification, workplace ethnography
Subjects: Q Science > QA Mathematics > QA75 Electronic computers. Computer science
Departments: School of Science & Technology
School of Science & Technology > Computer Science
SWORD Depositor:
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