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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

AI may seem untethered from humans, but it actually hinges on data produced by people — and gathered by companies.

Why it matters: Information about who you are, what you own and how you behave will only become more coveted in the coming years, because they are the chief drivers of decision-making algorithms, voice assistants and self-driving cars.

What's going on: If a machine is to act like a human, it must first learn how humans act. For that, it needs countless examples of how people would respond to various situations.

  • This process, known as "supervised learning," is how AI systems have become capable of identifying certain problems in medical scans more accurately than human doctors, or of driving a car without human input.
  • When you use Amazon's Alexa voice assistant, Facebook's News Feed or Tesla's Autopilot, the companies are watching your every move, and using your behavior to keep training their products.

Who trains AI systems? Sometimes, it's grad students in a research lab; frequently, it's workers on crowdsourcing sites or in cubicles in Malaysia or China, paid mere cents for every new datapoint they create.

  • But often, it's you — and you're working for free.
"The data-driven world will be always on, always tracking, always monitoring, always listening and always watching — because it will be always learning."
IDC white paper, "The Digitization of the World."

Go deeper

Dominion sends cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell

Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Dominion Voting Systems on Monday sent a cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell over his spread of misinformation related to the 2020 election.

Why it matters: Trump and several of his allies have pushed false conspiracy theories about the company, leading Dominion to take legal action. It's suing pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell for defamation and $1.3 billion in damages, and a Dominion employee has sued Trump himself, OANN and Newsmax.

Off the Rails

Episode 5: The secret CIA plan

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer, Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 5: Trump vs. Gina — The president becomes increasingly rash and devises a plan to tamper with the nation's intelligence command.

In his final weeks in office, after losing the election to Joe Biden, President Donald Trump embarked on a vengeful exit strategy that included a hasty and ill-thought-out plan to jam up CIA Director Gina Haspel by firing her top deputy and replacing him with a protege of Republican Congressman Devin Nunes.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: CDC director defends agency's response to pandemic — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Empire State Building among hundreds to light up in Biden inauguration coronavirus tribute.
  3. Vaccine: Fauci: 100 million doses in 100 days is "absolutely" doable.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode again.
  5. Tech: Kids' screen time sees a big increase.