Back on May 10th a nonstenographic owner of a captioning/CART company sent out a blast – before it was released to the world on May 11th  that his company (Alternative Communication Strategies, “ACS”) was being acquired by an Australian company after the Australian company recently completed an A$10.3 million (US$6.6 million) fundraising round.

“Funds from the latest investment round, which take total capital raised by Ai-Media to more than A$20 million*, will be used to help fund the ACS acquisition and accelerate Ai-Media’s international expansion through organic growth and other carefully selected strategic acquisitions.”

Here’s the paragraph that piqued our interests here at WUNCRA: “Ai-Media’s unique technology platform uses a combination of human and artificial intelligence  to provide highly accurate, low-cost captioning for more than two million minutes of live and recorded video and events every month.”

Yeah, you’ve read that correctly.  They use a combo of human AND artificial intelligence.  So, why do you suppose they need the human factor?  Could it be to train the artificial intelligence, we wonder?

Was an Australian company keen on buying an American company because the captioners in the USA will train the ‘stralian robots with the American dialect, we wonder?  They paid millions of dollars to “complement their organic sales growth in the North American market.”  After all, “Markets like North America provide enormous opportunities for Ai Media – they are vastly bigger than our home market but the provision of captioning services is highly fragmented and there is a demand for the level of service, quality and innovation that we are able to offer with our technology-driven platform” – the stenographic captioners training their robots, we believe.

After a “town hall meeting,” the co-founder of ACS offered some “full transparency on recent activities at ACS”:

Namely, that jobs were offered at a COVID-19 discounted rate paying $60 an hour.  All of us here at WUNCRA are perplexed by the discounted rate that was “in no way impacted or influenced by” the multi-million-dollar purchase. Hmmm, why was it even necessary to offer a “COVID-19 discount”?

“The ‘Ai’ in Ai-Media stands for ‘access innovation,’ not artificial intelligence or anything ASR related.” Yeah, right!

Here are more of their gems – with commentary/interpretation:

 “There were a few concerns” – we understand that there were many pissed-off, highly talented captioners.

 “that the acquisition wasn’t handled well” – it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission.

“but we all must understand that it was difficult informing 6,000 people (including 300 independent captioners)” – the talent that brought the nonstenographic owners to the point where they could sell the highly talented captioners out for millions of dollars.

Another email was sent out to their 300 independent contractors after a ”Town Hall meeting.”  A note was made that only 30 people attended the two meetings offered – inferring that there is little interest in the issue.  Here is the second bulleted item from that blast:

“2.  Will the ACS Brand stay?  Ai-Media bought ACS in part because of the brand recognition we have in the industry.  They want it to stay intact and strong. They are committed to that and are making every attempt to keep it strong and relevant. … The mantras being used as we move forward are ‘Do No Harm,’ ‘Assume Positive Intent,’ and ‘Secure The Base’!”

Our advice to the captioning community …

“Do No Harm” – watch your own backs, ladies and gentlemen. It is very harmful to you and the captioning/CART industry for highly talented stenographers to be training robots.

“Assume Positive Intent” – don’t assume anything. When you “ASS-U-ME,” you make an “ass” out of “you” and “me.”

“Secure the base” – the base is the 300 independent captioners, ladies and gentlemen, the talent with which Ai‑Media and ACS cannot survive!  That is, until the human talent has finished helping them fully train your robot replacements.

Finally, everything we’ve written here – except for the direct quotes – is simply our opinion based on our long experience as stenographic reporters and captioners.  We have no inside knowledge of the Ai‑Media/ACS transaction.  But please keep this in mind if someone from ACS steps forward again to correct the record:  ACS sold!  ACS is not driving the bus.  Ai‑Media is. 

So until we see a full retraction and satisfactory explanation from Ai‑Media about how the very core of their business model is about their commitment to their human talent and not about using the “artificial intelligence” part of their platform to eliminate the pesky and expensive human part and thus maximize the almighty dollar (US or Australian) for Ai‑Media’s owners – until we hear and see proof of THAT, they’re not really saying anything but “blah, blah, blah” (which we’re pretty sure sounds the same in Australian- or American-English).  But again, that’s just our opinion.   

 Frank N. Sense

P.S. Please send this to every captioner and CART stenographer on your email list.

P.P.S. Thank you to all of the CARTers, captioners  and stenographers that kept us informed on this very important happening in the stenographic industry.  Keep the info flowing!

*US $12.8 million – to save you from doing the math

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