For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Artificial intelligence: Implications for the future of work"

by Howard, John (2019)


Artificial intelligence (AI) is a broad transdisciplinary field with roots in logic, statistics, cognitive psychology, decision theory, neuroscience, linguistics, cybernetics, and computer engineering. The modern field of AI began at a small summer workshop at Dartmouth College in 1956. Since then, AI applications made possible by machine learning (ML), an AI subdiscipline, include Internet searches, e-commerce sites, goods and services recommender systems, image and speech recognition, sensor technologies, robotic devices, and cognitive decision support systems (DSSs). As more applications are integrated into everyday life, AI is predicted to have a globally transformative influence on economic and social structures similar to the effect that other general-purpose technologies, such as steam engines, railroads, electricity, electronics, and the Internet, have had. Novel AI applications in the workplace of the future raise important issues for occupational safety and health. This commentary reviews the origins of AI, use of ML methods, and emerging AI applications embedded in physical objects like sensor technologies, robotic devices, or operationalized in intelligent DSSs. Selected implications on the future of work arising from the use of AI applications, including job displacement from automation and management of human-machine interactions, are also reviewed. Engaging in strategic foresight about AI workplace applications will shift occupational research and practice from a reactive posture to a proactive one. Understanding the possibilities and challenges of AI for the future of work will help mitigate the unfavorable effects of AI on worker safety, health, and well-being.

Key Passage

Uncertainty about how AI will shape the future of work parallel concerns about how AI may alter what it is like to be human. AI‐enabled applications that are beginning to enter the workplace need the attention of occupational safety and health practitioners, researchers, employers, and workers. When AI‐ enabled devices or systems are considered for introduction into the workplace, thorough preplacement safety and health review of their benefits and risks should be performed. A proactive approach to AI and its implications for the future of work re-quire occupational safety and health professionals to develop strategic foresight to better anticipate and prepare for the possibilities and challenges of AI‐ enabled technologies on worker safety, health, and well‐being. (p.922)


Artificial Intelligence, Decision Support Systems, Machine Learning, Robotics



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