Category Archives: Automation & Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Work: A Proactive Strategy

Source: Thomas A. Kochan, AI Magazine, Vol. 42 No. 1, Spring 2021
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From the abstract:
One of the greatest challenges and opportunities of our time lies in harnessing the innovative potential of emerging technologies to help achieve a more prosperous and just society. Discussions of how to do so are at the center of debates over how artificial intelligence, machine learning, and associated tools might affect the future of work. In this article, I will outline a proactive strategy for addressing these issues.

Pandemics and Automation: Will the Lost Jobs Come Back?

Source: Tahsin Saadi-Sedik, Jiae Yoo, International Monetary Fund (IMF), IMF Working Paper No. 2021/011, January 1, 2021

From the abstract:
COVID-19 has exacerbated concerns about the rise of the robots and other automation technologies. This paper analyzes empirically the impact of past major pandemics on robot adoption and inequality. First, we find that pandemic events accelerate robot adoption, especially when the health impact is severe and is associated with a significant economic downturn. Second, while robots may raise productivity, they could also increase inequality by displacing low-skilled workers. We find that following a pandemic, the increase in inequality over the medium term is larger for economies with higher robot density and where new robot adoption has increased more. Our results suggest that the concerns about the rise of the robots amid the COVID-19 pandemic seem justified.

Opportunity, policy, and the future of automation

Source: Marcus Casey and Ashleigh Maciolek, Brookings Institution, December 21, 2020

Despite persistent fears that robots and computers are coming for our jobs, most labor market experts agree that fears (or hopes) for a future where work will be optional, or worse, extremely scarce due to technological change are unlikely. In rare instances, such as the elevator operator, jobs will be rendered completely obsolete. Most jobs, however, will still exist even if fundamentally changed in both task content and form. Technological change will create new tasks and jobs as well.

The productivity and efficiency gains of technological change will be a net positive for society. However, this does not mean we have no reason for concern. First, the availability of work for all who seek it is a precondition for a prosperous and equitable society. Advances in automation and AI have the potential to magnify many of the challenges currently facing our society: income and wealth inequality, concentration of corporate power, reduced upward mobility, and persistent disability, gender, and racial discrimination. Mitigating potential negative tradeoffs of technological change will require new public policy paradigms to ensure that the most at-risk segments of the population are not left even further behind.

To that end, the Future of the Middle Class Initiative at Brookings hosted an event exploring these topics. A two-part panel first considered the role and design of social insurance programs and second, discussed how to foster social mobility and ensure equity of opportunity in the face of automation. The panelists identified key public policy challenges in a technology-driven economy and offered potential non-incremental solutions to best support low and middle-income Americans.

Envisioning the future of work to safeguard the safety, health, and well‐being of the workforce: A perspective from the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

Source: Sara L. Tamers, Jessica Streit, Rene Pana‐Cryan, Tapas Ray, Laura Syron, Michael A. Flynn, Dawn Castillo, Gary Roth, Charles Geraci, Rebecca Guerin, Paul Schulte, Scott Henn, Chia‐Chia Chang, Sarah Felknor, John Howard, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Vol. 63, No. 12, December 2020
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From the abstract:
The future of work embodies changes to the workplace, work, and workforce, which require additional occupational safety and health (OSH) stakeholder attention. Examples include workplace developments in organizational design, technological job displacement, and work arrangements; work advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, and technologies; and workforce changes in demographics, economic security, and skills. This paper presents the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s Future of Work Initiative; suggests an integrated approach to address worker safety, health, and well‐being; introduces priority topics and subtopics that confer a framework for upcoming future of work research directions and resultant practical applications; and discusses preliminary next steps. All future of work issues impact one another. Future of work transformations are contingent upon each of the standalone factors discussed in this paper and their combined effects. Occupational safety and health stakeholders are becoming more aware of the significance and necessity of these factors for the workplace, work, and workforce to flourish, merely survive, or disappear altogether as the future evolves. The future of work offers numerous opportunities, while also presenting critical but not clearly understood difficulties, exposures, and hazards. It is the responsibility of OSH researchers and other partners to understand the implications of future of work scenarios to translate effective interventions into practice for employers safeguarding the safety, health, and well‐being of their workers.

The Invisible Web at Work: Artificial Intelligence and Electronic Surveillance in the Workplace

Source: Richard A. Bales, Katherine V.W. Stone, Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law, Vol. 41 no. 1, 2020
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From the abstract:
Employers and others who hire or engage workers to perform services use a dizzying array of electronic mechanisms to make personnel decisions about hiring, worker evaluation, compensation, discipline, and retention. These electronic mechanisms include electronic trackers, surveillance cameras, metabolism monitors, wearable biological measuring devices, and implantable technology. With these tools, employers can record their workers ’ every movement, listen in on their conversations, measure minute aspects of performance, and detect oppositional organizing activities. The data collected is transformed by means of artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms into a permanent electronic resume that can identify and predict an individual’s performance as well as their work ethic, personality, union proclivity, employer loyalty, and future health care costs. The electronic resume produced by AI will accompany workers from job to job as they move around the boundaryless workplace. Thus AI and electronic monitoring produce an invisible electronic web that threatens to invade worker privacy, deter unionization, enable subtle forms of employer blackballing, exacerbate employment discrimination, render unions ineffective, and obliterate the protections of the labor laws.

This article describes the many ways AI is being used in the workplace and how its use is transforming the practices of hiring, evaluating, compensating, controlling, and dismissing workers. It then focuses on five areas of law in which AI threatens to undermine worker protections: antidiscrimination law, privacy law, antitrust law, labor law, and employee representation. Finally, this article maps out an agenda for future law reform and research.

Addressing Artificial Intelligence-Based Hiring Concerns

Source: Dave Zielinski, HR Magazine, Summer 2020

The honeymoon is over for the use of artificial intelligence in human resources. The introduction of a bevy of new artificial intelligence (AI) tools by industry vendors over the past few years was met with a buzz, and it was embraced by HR practitioners seeking to use machine-learning algorithms to bring new efficiencies to recruiting, employee engagement, shared services, learning and development, and other areas of HR.

But as the use of AI has grown, it has attracted more attention from regulators and lawmakers concerned about fairness and ethical issues tied to the technology. Chief among those concerns are a lack of transparency in the way that many AI vendors’ tools work—namely that too many still function as “black boxes” without an easily understood explanation of their inner workings—and that machine-learning algorithms can perpetuate or even exacerbate unconscious bias in hiring decisions.

Why Artificial Intelligence Will Not Outsmart Complex Knowledge Work

Source: Lene Pettersen, Volume: 33 issue: 6, Issue published: December 2019
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From the abstract:
The potential role of artificial intelligence in improving organisations’ performance and productivity has been promoted regularly and vociferously since the 1960s. Artificial intelligence is today reborn out of big business, similar to the occurrences surrounding big data in the 1990s, and expectations are high regarding AI’s potential role in businesses. This article discusses different aspects of knowledge work that tend to be ignored in the debate about whether or not artificial intelligence systems are a threat to jobs. A great deal of knowledge work concerns highly complex problem solving and must be understood in contextual, social and relational terms. These aspects have no generic nor universal rules and solutions and, thus, cannot be easily replaced by artificial intelligence or programmed into computer systems, nor are they constructed based on models of the rational brain. In this respect, this article draws on philosopher Herbert Dreyfus’ thesis regarding artificial intelligence.

No Rage Against the Machines: Threat of Automation Does Not Change Policy Preferences

Source: Baobao Zhang, MIT Political Science Department Research Paper No. 2019-25, September 16, 2019

From the abstract:
Labor-saving technology has already decreased employment opportunities for middle-skill workers. Experts anticipate that advances in AI and robotics will cause even more significant disruptions in the labor market over the next two decades. This paper presents three experimental studies that investigate how this profound economic change could affect mass politics. Recent observational studies suggest that workers’ exposure to automation risk predicts their support not only for redistribution but also for right-wing populist policies and candidates. Other observational studies, including my own, find that workers underestimate the impact of automation on their job security. Misdirected blame towards immigrants and workers in foreign countries, rather than concerns about workplace automation, could be driving support for right-wing populism. To correct American workers’ beliefs about the threats to their jobs, I conducted three survey experiments in which I informed workers about the existent and future impact of workplace automation. While these informational treatments convinced workers that automation threatens American jobs, they failed to change respondents’ preferences on welfare, immigration, and trade policies. My research finds that raising awareness about workplace automation did not decrease opposition to globalization or increase support for policies that will prepare workers for future technological disruptions.

How Robots Are Beginning to Affect Workers and Their Wages

Source: William M. Rodgers III and Richard Freeman, The Century Foundation, October 17, 2019

From the summary:

Much has been written about the rise of robots and the potential impacts of automation on the economy. Yet most analysis tends to be prospective in nature, and estimates of future impacts on employment vary widely, with some studies predicting that as many as 50 percent of all workers are at risk of losing their jobs to automation. Even less is understood about the actual impacts of robots on jobs, wages, and workers today. While more recent studies have begun to measure these effects, the results here, too, are mixed.

This report analyzes the impact of robots in the years following the Great Recession, from 2009 to 2017—a period of significant, steady job growth and economic recovery, as well as one in which the use of robots in the U.S. workplace more than doubled. The report’s findings, summarized below, offer new insights that can help inform ongoing debates about the future of work and the impact of automation.

The first takeaway is that robots are, indeed, coming—but there is little evidence (yet) that robotic growth is leading to widespread job displacement, as some have predicted. That said, there are winners and losers with automation. While robots may have negligible effects on national employment as a whole, certain industries and regions are more impacted by robotic growth, and particular groups of workers disproportionately suffer the negative effects of this growth. It is also the case that job losses from robotization may have little impact on total employment, as displaced workers find other jobs (especially in a strong economy with low unemployment), even if at lower pay. Lastly, we find that the economic boom of the past decade has effectively “masked” some of the impacts that robots have had on workers. It’s not that robots weren’t displacing jobs—it’s that the overall economic expansion was large enough to offset some of these job losses. ….

What You Should Know
• Estimates of the potential impacts of robots on the American economy vary widely, with some studies predicting that as many as 50 percent of all workers are at risk of losing their jobs to automation in the coming decades.
• This report looks at what is happening in practice, estimating the impact of rising automation in the wake of the Great Recession, from 2009 to 2017, a period in which the use of industrial robots in the United States has more than doubled.
• The report shows that, on the national level overall, robots have not (yet) brought the dire effects that many have warned. However, the impact of robots varies across groups of workers, regions, and industries.
• There have been clear losers with increased automation: namely, younger, less-educated manufacturing workers in the Midwest (and younger, minority workers in these industries in particular). These industries not only have the highest number of robots in use, but are also experiencing the fastest growth in robot adoption.
• Importantly, some of the adverse impacts on the wages and jobs of Midwest manufacturing workers have been “masked” by the economic recovery of the past decade. That is, had the recovery not occurred, we’d be witnessing even more young workers being displaced from their jobs.

Déjà Vu AI: What Can We Learn from the Digital Revolution?

Source: Laura Schultz, Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, August 26, 2019

At the dawn of the digital revolution, economists questioned whether or not we were entering the next industrial revolution. They forecasted dramatic leaps in our personal productivity, automation of mundane tasks, changes in the workforce, globalization, and self-employment. These are many of the same predictions being made today as artificial intelligence lays on the horizon.