Published on November 16, 2023, 4:22 pm

The Cautionary Tale Of Treating Ai As “Co-Workers”: Implications For Job Displacement And Labor Rights

Companies are increasingly looking to implement generative AI tools within their environments to boost productivity and automate processes. However, some companies are taking it a step further by treating these AI systems as “co-workers,” complete with names and digital avatars. While this may seem innocent or cute on the surface, it raises concerns about equating the output of AI tools with human labor.

Calling an AI tool a co-worker implies that its metrics can be directly compared to those of human workers, which is problematic at best. This approach can lead to a competitive dynamic between workers and automated assistants, ultimately resulting in job cuts for real people. In fact, several companies have already started replacing employees with AI, leading to thousands of job losses.

Although some CEOs like IBM’s Arvind Krishna have attempted to backtrack on their statements and assure that tech roles won’t be reduced, the reality is that back-office staff will still face cuts. The argument that fewer people can accomplish the same work through automation does little to alleviate concerns about worker displacement.

This is not the first time major technological developments have had an impact on employment. The advent of personal computers and smartphones created opportunities for those who could effectively use productivity tools. Large language models (LLMs) powered by natural language processing also hold promise for enabling non-technical workers to utilize AI tools for complex tasks like coding.

However, we must be cautious not to allow automation to take over roles previously held by humans. Tools initially marketed as productivity enhancers should not be allowed to replace existing jobs entirely. Instead, company leaders should focus on upskilling their workforce and ensure that employees are part of the AI journey.

Treating AI behind peppy names or avatars distracts from the power shift happening in the workplace due to automation. By promoting the idea that an AI tool can fully replace human workers, executives divert attention from their own decisions regarding firing and hiring practices. Ultimately, prioritizing profit over employees’ well-being erodes worker bargaining power and undermines labor rights.

A potential solution to this struggle is the implementation of “human-led” AI systems. These systems incorporate AI tools as optional enhancements to existing software or operating systems. They can make suggestions or produce drafts, but the final decision-making remains with real employees. Companies like Google and Microsoft have embraced this concept in their AI productivity tools, providing workers with additional support without completely replacing their role.

While generative AI will undoubtedly find more applications in business, such as drafting blog posts, it would be odd to see a large language model listed as an “author” alongside a human copywriter. It’s important to maintain the idea of authorship and responsibility when utilizing these systems.

In conclusion, while generative AI has the potential to enhance productivity and automate processes, companies must be cautious when treating AI tools as co-workers and fully replacing human workers. The focus should be on involving employees in the AI journey and maintaining their well-being while utilizing technology as a helpful tool rather than a replacement for human labor.


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