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Disabled veterans find work training AI

A man sits at a laptop displaying the US Marine Corps logo.
Photo: Glenn Koenig/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

For a month, two disabled veterans in Texas labeled photos taken by drones, drawing lines around objects and identifying them. Their work will be used to train artificial intelligence systems.

Why it matters: Physical disabilities or a mental health condition like PTSD can make it difficult for a veteran to work in a traditional office or work site. But data labeling can be done on a computer from home.

What's happening: A software company, a defense contractor and two nonprofits are behind a project to provide AI training work for veterans.

  • Working hours are flexible, which benefits veterans whose disability status prevents them from working full time, says Lindsay Box, executive director of IAM23, a veterans’ services organization.
  • "It gives them a sense of meaning," says Box. "It gives them something to wake up for in the morning."

The drone-image project is for a large defense contractor. Machine vision systems need a lot of annotated data in order to learn to automatically identify objects.

  • Nathaniel Gates, CEO of Alegion — the company that created the software the veterans used — wouldn’t say which contractor was involved.
  • DEWIT, an Austin nonprofit that helped arrange the pilot program, hopes to sign on more than a dozen veterans for a second project.
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