GPT Chat will steal your job

Image: Andrew Neel


The replacement of human labor is not the fault of technology, but the way it is used in the capitalist system

The exploitation of human labor through the extraction of surplus value, that is, unpaid labor time, is a fundamental understanding of Marx's critique of political economy, which produces an epistemological break between classical political economy and the Marxian analysis of the capitalist mode of production – expression coined by the German thinker to apprehend the socioeconomic dynamics of human formations in its historical character.

According to Marx, in the desire to maximize the extraction of surplus value, the capitalist finds two fronts of action: one of them is the expansion of the working day, prolonging the time in which the worker exceeds the necessary working time and continues to produce added value, through a quantum of more work. Marx calls this modality absolute surplus value. The other modality, relative surplus value, consists of the use of technological innovations to increase productivity and reduce the working time necessary for the production of a commodity, with the possibility of incorporating machinery that costs the capitalist less than his expenditure on the workforce.

This process results in the replacement of variable capital (labor force) by fixed or constant capital (machines, automated processes, artificial intelligence, etc.). The productivity of the machine is thus measured by the degree to which it replaces human labor power, with the self-valorization of capital through the machine “directly proportional to the number of workers whose conditions of existence it annihilates”.[I]

Therefore, it is not surprising that, alongside the general excitement with the infinite possibilities of applying artificial intelligence processes in the world of work, it is also possible to notice, in parallel, an apprehension in several professional sectors with the perspectives of replacing live work with automated work. After all, as Marx and Engels remember in the Communist Manifesto, “this continuous subversion of production, this constant shaking of the entire social system, this permanent agitation and this lack of security distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all preceding ones”.[ii]

In 2023, the popularity of Chat GPT-4 (acronym for Generative Pre-trained Transformers), a generator of texts in an extensive language model (Large Language Models) which generates answers in essay format based on a scan of information available on the internet, was accompanied by a fear of teachers, translators, composers, lawyers, judges, marketing and finance professionals and other occupations that could be substituted. Should the reader who exercises any of these professions threatened by the development of technology then conclude that a robot is going to take their job?

Well, it's possible so. But technology is not to blame, but the way it is employed in the capitalist system. Machines, says the Brazilian philosopher Álvaro Vieira Pinto, “are included in the historical process of the societies that produce them, and of which they become indexes, thus revealing the extension of the process of perception of the world embodied in them and the relationships between men , which made them possible”; in this sense, “the consequences, good or bad, resulting from their use should not be imputed to them, as they are not responsible beings, but to their owners”.[iii] As Marx reminds us, "here, as everywhere else, a distinction must be made between the increased productivity which results from the development of the social process of production and that which results from the capitalist exploitation of this development".[iv]

It is to the subsumption of technology to the capitalist mode of production, therefore, that the following contradictions pointed out by the German thinker in the XNUMXth century, which remain empirically observable in the digital world of the XNUMXst century, should be credited: “considered in itself, machinery shortens the labor time, whereas, used in a capitalist way, it increases the working day; how, by itself, it facilitates work, whereas, used capitalistically, it increases its intensity; how, by itself, it is a victory of man over the forces of nature, whereas, used in a capitalist way, it subjugates man through the forces of nature (...)”.[v]

On the other hand, GPT Chat also creates new jobs, since its language needs, as the acronym says, some pre-training. The previous version of Chat, GPT-3, although it produced coherent texts thanks to its great capacity for processing the information found on the world wide web, frequently wrote racist, sexist, homophobic and violent comments – precisely thanks to its capacity for processing the informational manure found on the network.

To solve the problem, OpenAI, developer of the tool, has available the service of a company based in San Francisco, in the heart of Silicon Valley, which uses labor from countries like Kenya, India and Uganda to work as labelers of data (data labels), classifying inappropriate content for companies such as Alphabet, Meta and Microsoft by performing so-called “human intelligence tasks” (human intelligence work, or HIT). According to a report in Time magazine, Kenyans were paid less than $2 an hour to make the company's chat language less toxic.[vi]

The classification of data in the GPT Chat is done by submitting poorly paid workers to texts that graphically describe child abuse, torture, self-mutilation, murders, suicides and other abject and traumatizing uses of human language, so that these workers label such content as inappropriate and make the new version of GPT Chat more impervious to offensive wording. The production of a less toxic digital environment, such as the one that Chat GPT-4 presents today, is done at the expense of the mental health of these gatekeepers of precarious work.

The file, far from being inaugurated by OpenAI, is part of the modus operandi its big tech hiring outsourced labor in peripheral countries, as shown in the film The Cleaners, from 2018, directed by Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck, which follows the daily lives of workers in the Philippines responsible for removing inappropriate videos from YouTube and Facebook. According to Phil Jones, author of Work Without the Worker: Labor in the Age of Platform Capitalism, “The magic of machine learning is the data labeling routine. Behind Silicon Valley's cargo-cult rituals is the hard work of sifting through hate speech, annotating images, and showing algorithms how to identify a cat."[vii]

Below the circle of hell of inappropriate content moderators is the even more dantesque and far from innovative work of extracting valuable minerals, such as coltan and gold, for the electronics industry. Result of a mixture of two minerals, columbite (from which niobium is extracted, which has superconductor properties) and tantalite (from which tantalum is extracted, used in the manufacture of small capacitors), coltan is a metallic ore used in most electronic devices, such as smartphones, notebooks and other computers, whether portable or on board (as in rockets and space stations). Gold filaments, an excellent conductor of electrical and thermal energy, cannot be missing from the production of iPhones, iMacs and iPads.

As Deivison Faustino and Walter Lippold say in the instigating digital colonialism (Boitempo), “there is no hardware without software”: referring to Frantz Fanon, who sees colonialism as a fundamental trait for the development of democracy and technology in large European cities, the authors state that “digital colonialism guarantees the normal functioning of of our smartphones and air navigation systems. A phenomenon that is only possible through the permanent creation of worlds of death in territories for the extraction of raw materials essential for the electronics industry, such as the mines on Lake Kivu, on the border of Congo with Rwanda and Burundi”.[viii]

As Brazilian law, until 2023, was based on the seller's declaration of good faith to legitimize the sale of Brazilian gold on the market, it is difficult to specify the percentage of gold illegally extracted from indigenous reserves (such as the Yanomami) that is contained in each smartphone. The same difficulty arises in calculating the amount of unpaid work that is present in the extraction of coltan from the largest reserves of this ore in the world, located in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the scene of a civil war involving the ownership of the mines (among other ethnic issues and territorial) that extends for years in the African country.

What is not reasonable is to ignore the practices of illegal gold mining in Brazil and the exploitation of slave and semi-slave labor in the Congo as necessary expedients for the production of electronic devices that provide access to the world internet market. Before the die, there is the ore; or, as stated by Ricardo Antunes, “the starting point of digital work is found in the hard work carried out by the miners”.[ix] Such activities are on the list of precarious work in the XNUMXst century, which is hidden under the light and apparently immaterial veil of digital capitalism that dissolves in the “cloud”.[X]

* Arthur Coelho Bezerra Professor at the Graduate Program in Information Science at IBICT-UFRJ.


[I] Karl Marx, Capital: critique of political economy. Book I: the capital production process (Boitempo, 2017, 2nd edition), p. 502-3 (

[ii] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Party Manifesto (Boitempo, 2010), p. 43 (

[iii] Alvaro Vieira Pinto. The concept of technology – volume I (Counterpoint, 2005), p. 106-107 (

[iv] Marx, 2017, p. 494.

[v] Marx, 2017, p. 513.


[vii] Phil Jones, Work Without the Worker: Labor in the Age of Platform Capitalism (Verse, 2021), p. 8. (

[viii] Deivison Faustino and Walter Lippold, Digital colonialism: towards a hacker-fanonian critique (Boitempo, 2023), p. 86-87 (

[ix] Ricardo Antunes, The privilege of servitude: the new service proletariat of the digital age (Boitempo, 2018), p. 20.

[X] Excerpts from the article “Technology and precarious work: critique of the political economy of digital capitalism” (Revista O Social em Questão, nº 58, Jan-Apr 2024, in press)

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