Artificial intelligence: How machine-learning jobs are giving refugees a future in tech

Bulgaria-based social enterprise Humans in the Loop provides digital skills training for migrants from conflict zones.

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The influx of refugees into the EU over the past five years has brought many challenges for its member states. But eastern EU countries have particularly felt the impact, in part because their economies are less developed than their western counterparts.

However in Bulgaria, which remains the EU's poorest member state, one company has managed to find a way to help refugees as well as boost the local economy.  

Humans in the Loop is a social enterprise founded in 2017. It helps refugees from conflict zones like Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan settle in the country by acquiring digital skills that they can use for working on artificial-intelligence and machine-learning-related projects.

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So far, the enterprise has helped around 2,000 refugees find work and integrate into Bulgarian society.

According to its CEO, Iva Gumnishka, Humans in the Loop can provide workers for any stages of the machine-learning model training and development cycle.

"The work ranges from collecting and labeling the ground truth dataset, to verifying the model's predictions once it's trained, and handling edge cases, which it's not sure about," Gumnishka tells ZDNet.

"We do quite a lot of work in the field of labeling and annotating images and video for computer-vision purposes, which is where the biggest demand in the market is coming from."

The organization works mostly with refugees, internally displaced people, and people living in conflict zones. It looks to offer employment for those who are left out of the labor market. Aside from the 100-people team based in Bulgaria, the company also works with 150 people across Turkey, Syria, and Iraq.

"In most countries, we partner with local NGOs, which provide digital skills and IT training. We ourselves organize upskilling training for our workforce, which includes computer skills and English," she explains.

According to Gumnishka, these opportunities are especially suitable for women who prefer to work from home and are looking to combine their projects with housework and childcare.

"We always distribute projects according to a priority score that each worker has, determined by their legal status, number of dependents, employment status, and other vulnerability factors." she tells ZDNet.

Over the past few years, the company has worked with many startups across Europe and the US, developing products in the fields of AI and computer vision.

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Its workers have also been involved in precision agriculture projects involving the segmentation of crops from drone images, insurance tech projects related to car-damage detection and assessment, facial detection, and spoofing detection for CCTV cameras.

The company is currently looking for additional partners in the Middle East, especially in Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, and Yemen. By 2020, Humans in the Loop aims to employ up to 500 people from conflict-affected countries, and to forge many new partnerships with AI companies.

"In terms of the market, we're seeing more and more interest in continuous model improvement and using a human in the loop consistently throughout the AI model lifecycle," Gumnishka adds.

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Social enterprise Humans in the Loop helps refugees from conflict zones acquire digital skills for AI projects.

Image: Human in the Loop