For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Labour in the Age of AI: Why Regulation is Needed to Protect Workers"

by Ponce, Aida (2020)


Superpowers, states and companies around the world are all pushing hard to win the AI race. Artificial intelligence (AI) is of strategic importance for the EU, with the European Commission recently stating that ‘artificial intelligence with a purpose can make Europe a world leader’. For this to happen, though, the EU needs to put in place the right ethical and legal framework.This Foresight Brief argues that such a framework must be solidly founded on regulation – which can be achieved by updating existing legislation – and that it must pay specific attention to the protection of workers. Workers are in a subordinate position in relation to their employers, and in the EU’s eagerness to win the AI race, their rights may be overlooked. This is why a protective and enforceable legal framework must be developed, with the participation of social partners.

Key Passage

AI has the ability to affect the workforce in many ways, both as a standalone technology or when coupledwith other technologies (robotics, machine learning, blockchain, etc.). This Foresight Brief therefore argues that a governance framework needs to be developed, and one preferably based on regulation rather than ethicalguidelines, codes of conduct or standards. Practically speaking, AI systems can impact workers in many different ways: trackers for Uber drivers, Deliveroo riders and lorry drivers; nurses connected with apps and tablets; technicians collaborating with robots in a production line; software deciding who should be promoted next, predicting outcomes and scheduling activities; etc. The impacts are many and diverse, but AI should not negatively affect workers’ fundamental rights and conditions. In companies, AI can be used to increaseproductivity, optimise processes or reduce costs. The technology has a symbiotic relationship with the humans working alongside it; although often invisible, it can be used to analyse behaviour, to recruit staff, to monitor workflows or to evaluate workers and their performance. In some instances, AI systems can even be usedto fire workers: in an article in The Verge, Colin Lecher (2019) reported that Amazon’s system tracks workers’ productivity rate and ‘automatically generates warnings or terminations regarding quality or productivity without input from supervisors’. (p.2)


Future Of Work, Artificial Intelligence, Regulation, Workers Rights, Ethics, Code Of Conduct, Governance


Political Theory, Law and Work, Capitalism, Automation

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