By Emma Batha
LONDON, Nov 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Companies could help refugees rebuild their lives by paying them to boost artificial intelligence (AI) using their phones and giving them digital skills, a tech non-profit said on Thursday.
REFUNITE has developed an app, LevelApp, which is being piloted in Uganda to allow people who have been uprooted by conflict to earn instant money by "training" algorithms for AI.
Wars, persecution and other violence have uprooted a record 68.5 million people, according to the U.N. refugee agency.
People forced to flee their homes lose their livelihoods and struggle to create a source of income, REFUNITE co-chief executive Chris Mikkelsen told the Trust Conference in London.
"This provides refugees with a foothold in the global gig economy," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation's two-day event, which focuses on a host of human rights issues.
A refugee in Uganda currently earning $1.25 a day doing basic tasks or menial jobs could make up to $20 a day doing simple AI labelling work on their phones, Mikkelsen said.
REFUNITE says the app could be particularly beneficial for women as the work can be done from the home and is more lucrative than traditional sources of income such as crafts.
The cash could enable refugees to buy livestock, educate children and access healthcare, leaving them less dependant on aid and helping them recover faster, according to Mikkelsen.
The work would also allow them to build digital skills they could take with them when they returned home, REFUNITE says.
"This would give them the ability to rebuild a life ... and the dignity of no longer having to rely solely on charity," Mikkelsen told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
AI is the development of computer systems which can perform tasks that normally require human intelligence.
It is being used in a vast array of products from driverless cars to agricultural robots that can identify and eradicate weeds and computers able to identify cancers.
In order to "teach" machines to mimic human intelligence, people must repeatedly label images and other data until the algorithm can detect patterns without human intervention.
REFUNITE, based in California, is trialing the app in Uganda where it has launched a pilot project involving 5,000 refugees – mainly form South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo. It hopes to scale up to 25,000 refugees within two years.
Mikkelsen said the initiative was a win-win as it would also benefit companies by slashing costs.
Another tech company, DeepBrain Chain, has committed to paying 200 refugees for a test period of six months, he said.
(Reporting by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Kieran Guilbert. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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