Scientific Foresight (STOA) By / June 1, 2022

STOA study on the use of artificial intelligence in workplace management [Science and Technology Podcast]

As artificial intelligence (AI) spreads into workplaces, workers and employers are increasingly confronted with applications and software that affect labour relations.

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Written by Philip Boucher.

A recently published Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA) study examines the use of artificial intelligence in workplace management systems. It explores the deployment and impacts of these technologies in the context of EU law before setting out a range of policy options for several legislative files.

As artificial intelligence (AI) spreads into workplaces, workers and employers are increasingly confronted with applications and software that affect labour relations. While AI systems could be introduced with the explicit aim of improving working conditions, this cannot be expected in general and evidence suggests that it may be the exception. In this context, a new STOA study has been published which examines the use of AI technologies in workplace management in the context of European Union (EU) law.

AI will become prominent in the workplace – Over time, many forms of software, both industry-specific and generalist, will acquire AI functionalities that will impact working conditions. AI is likely to become a prominent feature in many people’s jobs, although applications with particularly far-reaching effects will become prominent in some industries more quickly than others.

Introducing and operating AI at work poses challenges for businesses – Companies will have to reflect carefully on how they can incorporate AI into their business structure to obtain the best results. Many of the best tools will likely be expensive, require additional material and personnel, or demand adjustments to companies’ work organisation.

The functionality and utility of many forms of AI at work remain in doubt Many of the AI tools currently deployed remain untested, and there are reasons to adopt a cautious and critical attitude towards several applications. Despite some promise for the world of work, AI is not a ‘silver bullet’ solution and requires effort to be implemented successfully without producing excessive adverse effects that could be highly detrimental to workers.

Businesses that lead in developing AI technologies will set the direction that other employers follow – Many employers still lack the hardware, data, staff, etc., required to advance on AI workplace management systems. However, some businesses at the forefront of this technology are already well ahead, setting out the direction that many other employers might follow.

AI has evident impact on working conditions – AI will, among other things, bolster the ‘datafication’ of work, making data protection and privacy rights all the more important. AI may also make work more precarious, increase businesses’ surveillance capabilities, and, in some instances, frustrate trade union activities. Despite some promising uses of AI in occupational safety and health (OSH) and non-discrimination, these technologies also present some threats in these areas. However, with some adjustment, much of the existing regulation can continue to function and steer the implementation of future AI at work in a desirable direction.

Regulatory adjustment will be required in several fields of law – By and large, across multiple areas of labour and employment legislation, AI can be governed if the rules are adequately adapted to the challenges it poses. However, without the necessary regulatory changes and investment in effective enforcement mechanisms in several areas, AI could spiral out of control.

The study, and its accompanying STOA options brief set out a range of policy options for the proposed artificial intelligence act (AIA) and EU directive on platform work, as well as the General Data Protection Regulation, anti-discrimination laws, OSH acquis, the Working Time, Fixed-Term Work, and Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions Directives, and instruments governing workers’ information and consultation.

Read the full report and STOA options brief to find out more. The study was presented by its authors to the STOA Panel at its meeting on 5 May 2022.

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