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The Very Real Threat of AI in the Workplace

By Wendi Lazar

Science fiction movies and sensational headlines warn us that artificial intelligence (AI) is going to make our jobs obsolete, widen the chasm between the very rich and the barely-surviving poor, and even develop superior consciousness. Far-fetched fantasies aside, many of AI's applications pose some very real threats to the modern workplace.

Automating Discrimination

Automating certain processes can cause unintentionally discriminatory outcomes when algorithms absorb the prejudices and biases of the data used to build them but can't integrate outside facts to form conclusions.

For example, consider a possible question used in the hiring process for a police force that asks, "have you ever killed or harmed someone intentionally?" and automatically rejects candidates who answer in the affirmative. While this question may seem like a neutral question, it could unintentionally discriminate against entire classes of applicants like veterans of active-duty military combat, law enforcement, or even victims of domestic violence. Other AI programs used in the hiring or acceptance process to review resumes or applications may unintentionally reject classes of applicants based on metrics that are possibly discriminatory in and of themselves (like standardized testing, for example) without the more holistic human perspective.

On the other hand, some employers are using AI in the hiring process to evaluate potential job candidates by using tools like online games and video analysis that expand the pool of candidates before being evaluated by actual people. This kind of integrated AI analysis may help companies overcome subconscious human biases while mitigating the unequivocal nature of artificial intelligence.

Replacing Workers in a Shrinking Workforce

As the capabilities improve, more workplaces are using AI to replace employees. This can result in workforce reductions, worker dissatisfaction, and a deteriorating corporate culture with far less personal service.

While many people fear that AI in the workplace will result in wholesale automation of jobs and the elimination of the working class, companies that have been most successful so far have integrated automation and AI technology with a creative human workforce. Ventures like fully-automated restaurants, however, haven't caught on with customers, and it's unlikely that a robotic AI bartender would ever be as satisfying to complain to about your boss - although an AI assistant may help him or her make, serve, and ring up drinks more quickly and efficiently.

AI can help enhance the productivity, profitability, and output of workers in integrated high-tech operations systems. Effectively integrating this technology, however, will indeed come at the cost of many previously-lucrative jobs, just as the adoption of the car put many blacksmiths and horse-drawn-carriage makers permanently out of work.

It will become vital in the coming years to develop legislative protections on the state and federal levels, protocols, and penalties to punish misuse of Bigdata acquired by AI, discrimination resulting from AI, and other AI-related workplace issues. While AI offers seemingly limitless possibilities, it's essential that employers and employees stay cognizant of the risks and threats that this developing technology can pose to the workforce and the organization.