Gen Z is in Charge at Billion-Dollar Scale AI

Scale AI is a member of a growing club of AI companies worth billions of dollars, but what grabs you about it is that its CEO, Alexandr Wang, is a member of Gen Z — and the fact that the companies data-labeling outsourcing arm, Remotasks, rug-pulled big chunks of its remote labor force without notice.

Wang didn’t start solo, he founded Scale alongside fellow American Lucy Guo. However, in 2018 Lucy said a “division in culture and ambition alignment” caused her to part ways with the company, leaving him alone at the helm.

By most measures, he’s done a bang-up job of steering the company. Alexandr Wang, though only 26 years old, has accelerated the company’s growth and managed to secure funding for the company at different stages of its growth: Scale was recently valued at a whopping $13.8 billion.

It’s definitely not a small feat for a company to be worth billions; the valuation has placed Scale AI in the ranks of unicorn startups (privately-held companies that achieve a valuation of over $1 billion). As a result Wang has been named the youngest self-made billionaire as of 2024.

Before its billion-dollar valuation, Scale AI was generating millions of dollars in revenue as far back as 2019 as a tech company. They started in 2016 as Scale API. The company began with the concept of using human intelligence to solve problems in the development and fine-tuning of AI. They quickly turned into a massive data-labeling and AI tuning operation, with a focus on the autonomous vehicles industry and later, the U.S. military.

Partnerships of Increasing Scale

Scale AI has established partnerships with some of the biggest names in technology and automotive industries, such as Nuro, Alphabet’s Waymo, General Motors’ Cruise, and generative AI leader OpenAI.

In addition to successful partnerships, Scale AI has also secured significant funding, attracting investments from prominent venture capital firms like Accel, Index Ventures, and Founders Fund.

The Dirty Side of AI at Scale: Remotasks

Remotasks is a subsidiary under Scale that outsources data labeling work to large numbers of people around the world. Scale believes that artificial intelligence cannot be independent of human intelligence; hence the creation of Remotasks to supply those humans.

On a cleaned up, abstracted level, Remotasks outsources data annotation and labeling to human independent contractors. But in practice, a lot of people think it amounts to exploitative labor and business practices. The Washington Post directly compared the work to sweatshops.

Screenshot of Remotask SERP listing advertising USD for online work.
Online sweatshop or enterprising hub for contractors? Screenshot: Google Search listing for Remotasks / Daniel Detlaf.

There have been complaints about Remotasks paying as low as $0.001 per task from workers all over the world, including Europe and America, which makes you wonder since it’s under a parent company worth billions.

Remotasks has come under fire over the last few months for discriminating against workers in Africa and Asia, including reports of workers being fired and locked out after raising concerns with management. A few months ago, it deleted the accounts of its African workers and stopped new sign-ups for Asian workers, leaving an unknown number of contractors without explanation.

Scale AI brings all the hallmarks of Big Data, both amazing and terrible: A unicorn valuation, a Gen Z business wunderkind – and a counter-story of questionable ethics and treating the world’s workers as grist for the mill of the American technology workforce.