ACADEMIC ARTICLE SUMMARY
The Future of Work in the Age of AI: Displacement or Risk-Shifting?
Article Source: The Oxford Handbook of Ethics of AI, Markus D. Dubber, Frank Pasquale, and Sunit Das, eds., pp. 27-52, 2020.
Publication Date:Time to Read: 2 minute read
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Artificial intelligence-based systems (AI) are altering the conditions and quality of work. Employers use AI to shift risks to low-wage workers, adopting irregular schedules or systems that force workers to adopt a strenuous pace.
Policymakers should adopt measures that improve the conditions and quality of work.
- One study predicts that 47 percent of jobs in the United States are at high risk of being automated, with most being low-wage occupations; such forecasts ask whether automation is technically feasible, but neglect social factors affecting automation, such as the political power of white workers.
- AI may change the task composition of jobs, redefining the occupation rather than replacing it; the growth of online sales will eliminate retail stores, but might create different jobs elsewhere in the supply chain.
- Unemployment might result as tasks are altered to make them easier for AI to manage; AI systems struggle to place items into properly sized boxes, so online sellers are developing systems that use AI to build boxes around items.
- Whether AI will displace workers is unclear, but AI is already affecting the conditions and quality of work; firms are using AI-based systems to shift risks from themselves to workers.
- With algorithmic scheduling, employers use sensors to measure shifts in demand, resulting in fluctuating "just-in-time" schedules that introduce instability into the lives of low-wage workers.
- Firms pinpoint “indispensable” tasks for which compensation must be paid under the Fair Labor Standards Act, but deny compensation for related tasks, such as donning protective gear.
- AI can be used to shift the risk of misconduct by employees (such as theft) from the employer to the employee.
- Firms use AI to monitor worker’s behavior and flag unusual activity.
- Some predictive systems for preventing loss might be biased against disadvantaged workers.
- Firms use AI to detect and penalize short lapses in employee productivity, resulting in extremely strenuous working conditions.
- Many policy proposals seek to address the problem of workers displaced by AI-based systems; policymakers should also consider protection for workers who retain jobs, such as laws that require employers to announce schedules in advance.