back to article AI biz borks US election spending data by using underpaid Amazon Mechanical Turks

Captricity, a company that touts AI software capable of reading text better than people, has been blamed for a bumper crop of data entry errors that misrepresent what many US Senate candidates are actually spending for their campaigns. According to a report published this week from the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), there …

  1. onefang Silver badge

    AI vs mechanical turks in a race to the bottom. I'm gonna get fat(ter) eating all this popcorn.

    1. Waseem Alkurdi Silver badge

      Hasn't it been always the case since the Industrial Revolution? Man vs. machine?

    2. Donn Bly

      popcorn

      Popcorn isn't exactly nutritious, but it isn't fattening either. Just cut down on the butter and salt and you can continue to enjoy the spectacle without the guilt of indulgence.

      1. Waseem Alkurdi Silver badge

        Re: popcorn

        I always wonder how people say that "air-popped" popcorn isn't fattening. Isn't popcorn ultimately a variation of "corn", which is made into corn oil?

        1. onefang Silver badge

          Re: popcorn

          "I always wonder how people say that "air-popped" popcorn isn't fattening."

          Just about anything is fattening, if you eat enough of it while sitting on your arse watching slow motion train wrecks.

          1. Giovani Tapini

            Re: popcorn

            Although you should remember its not necesarily very digestible.

            Corn, albeit unpopped, is a great way to see how fast your digestion is working as it comes out almost intact :)

            1. J27 Bronze badge

              Re: popcorn

              If you're seeing a lot of undigested corn in your stool you either need to contact a doctor or chew more thoroughly. Corn just needs to be chewed thoroughly to be digested.

              1. Androgynous Cow Herd

                Re: popcorn

                "Corn for the mornin'!"

      2. jmch Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: popcorn

        "Popcorn isn't exactly nutritious, but it isn't fattening either. Just cut down on the butter and salt "

        Yeah, but popcorn without butter and salt isn't popcorn, is it?

        1. J27 Bronze badge

          Re: popcorn

          Sure it is, in fact it's more popcorny because you can actually taste the corn.

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "cut turnaround time for election filings by 90 per cent"

    Seems it also cuts accuracy by 90%.

    Also, don't you just love when government-level info is sent abroad without any control or authorization ?

    With all the talk about encryption backdoors and NSA surveillance, you'd think they'd at least keep the data within their own borders.

  3. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

    Random AI

    Perhaps they should use this AI to randomly select members of congress/parliament/duma. It would save the voters a lot of bother, and the candidates a lot of election expenses.

    1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      No need for AI; a lottery will suffice.

      Citizens' juries have good results. IIRC you can't completely do away with elected politicians (somebody has to set the questions and somebody has to implement the answers) but they produce good policy; much better than referenda.

      1. jmch Silver badge

        Re: No need for AI; a lottery will suffice.

        "No need for AI; a lottery will suffice"

        Reminds me of a short story (by Kurt Vonnegut???) where computers / statistics have gotten so powerful / intelligent that they can extrapolate a correct election result from a smaller and smaller pool until that pool shrinks to 1 person, and there is no linger "the voters" but "the voter"

        1. onefang Silver badge

          Re: No need for AI; a lottery will suffice.

          'Reminds me of a short story (by Kurt Vonnegut???) where computers / statistics have gotten so powerful / intelligent that they can extrapolate a correct election result from a smaller and smaller pool until that pool shrinks to 1 person, and there is no linger "the voters" but "the voter"'

          May have been Asimov, or maybe they both did one. Isaac Asimov wrote "The Franchise", a short story where that was basically the plot.

  4. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    OCR not Online Entry?

    It seems this fiasco could be avoided by having robust online data entry. But then this is the ferals we are talking about. Many of whom still have not heard of the wonderful device could a slide rule let alone a computer.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Captricity

    They really didn't give enough thought to the name. A bit like a certain UK BPO corporation with a not dissimilar name.

    Does (almost) nominative determinism apply to companies?

    1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

      Re: Captricity

      You could also look for nominative determinism in their CEO: Nowell Outlaw!? Really?

  6. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    Mechanical Turk workers

    "about a quarter of whom typically are located outside the US, at an estimated average cost of $2.44 an hour"

    That's 170 Rubles at current exchange rates.

    1. BebopWeBop Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Mechanical Turk workers

      But I'm sure te Rusians subsidise their data entry people.....

    2. jMcPhee

      Re: Mechanical Turk workers

      My dog said he'd turk for $2.30 an hour. It's not like Amazon cares...

    3. Giovani Tapini

      Re: Mechanical Turk workers

      Also curiously almost the same at 177 Indian Rupees...

  7. Identity
    FAIL

    How do I get so much done so quickly?

    I do a really half-assed job!

  8. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Meh

    "With Captricity’s cloud-native Data-as-a-Service platform, the FEC is able to upload scanned filing reports into designated folders securely hosted in the cloud via Amazon S3 [...] The images are then automatically extracted from each folder and uploaded to Captricity. Deep learning algorithms sort and capture the data from all of the documents quickly, securely and with 99.9 percent accuracy."

    So now Deep Learning is a Perl script going through directories, calling an OCR program for each file in that directory and then sending the text file output to Mechanical Turk.

    1. Tomato42 Silver badge

      ah, another technical term completely ruined by markedroids; joins the list of "aero-grade aluminium", "military spec" and "enterprise grade", to mention just few

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Plausible deniability

    "According to a report published this week from the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), there are "errors in more than 5,900 candidate disclosures representing over $70 million, all of them traceable to the US government’s conversion of paper into electronic data."

    This gives candidates plausible deniability and gets around all those pesky campaign finance laws when the numbers don't add up in the unlikely event of an audit.

    1. veti Silver badge

      Re: Plausible deniability

      Only if you can also arrange for someone to lose the original paper version. That may (or not) be an audit record in itself.

      The real question is, why do the work on paper and then digitise it? Why not just fill in a Web form or equivalent directly?

      1. John G Imrie Silver badge

        Why not just fill in a Web form or equivalent directly?

        Not everyone has Internet or even electricity. See for example the Amish. You can't disenfranchise them just because they can't fill in a web form.

        1. jmch Silver badge

          Re: Why not just fill in a Web form or equivalent directly?

          "Not everyone has Internet or even electricity."

          True, but you can provide the option, and probably a large %age will take it up. Much less paper to digitize could also mean less errors in digitizing it.

        2. disgruntled yank Silver badge

          Re: Why not just fill in a Web form or equivalent directly?

          "Not everyone has Internet or even electricity. See for example the Amish. You can't disenfranchise them just because they can't fill in a web form."

          Not everybody running for public office? Adding a requirement for filing is not the same thing as disfranchisement. In any case, the Amish will make use of devices that they will not operate. They don't drive automobiles, but I used to see plenty of them on Greyhound buses.

        3. JohnJacob

          Re: Why not just fill in a Web form or equivalent directly?

          Actually it's not accurate. The Amish do have electricity. I took a tour of Pennsylvania Dutch country last year and saw solar panels on many houses which blew my mind. I guess the justification is it's not the *electricity* that's the evil influence... it's the connection to the grid. They seem to have clever ways around nearly each and every of their "sacred" rules. It's a society of hotfix patches and workarounds.

          So anyhow... let them fill out the web forms as well. ^-^ The way I see it as long as they're uploading info in a form and not browsing the interwebs... they're good to go.

  10. MacroRodent Silver badge

    Lives up to its name

    The original Mechanical Turk was also a fake AI, with a hidden human chess player inside it.

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