Good for tech: Disability expertise and labor in China's artificial intelligence sector
People with disabilities are often perceived as being “given” the opportunity to work, rather than “providing” valuable labor. Centering on disabled data workers as experts involved in the quotidian construction of artificial intelligence (AI) systems in China, this article shows that disability expertise and labor can afford a technical edge to AI systems in a certain political economy. In the case examined, the work of consistently synchronizing interpretations of the ambiguous data and elusive rules of smart home systems prefers a stable annotation workforce with coordinated cognition and trained judgment. This technical demand has come to be met by a committed team of skilled disabled workers, who are pushed out from mainstream job market by systemic ableism, and pulled in by disability-informed expertise that reconfigures space, time, and political economy to meet non-normative bodyminds. Through this exceptional case run by a disabled people led organization, I draw attention to disabled people’s under-examined role as system-builders of information technologies as opposed to users, victims, or inspirations, and highlight the transformative potential of disability expertise.
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