AI and machine learning applied to the workplace could make it super creepy

The Economist is running a story on how AI and machine learning can be very valuable for companies in “improving” their workplace. I put “improving” in quotes because while some of the applications AI/machine learning are benign and are useful, there are other uses that are more dangerous and bordering on unethical.

Good uses of AI in the workplace

The good uses of AI in the workplace:

Thanks to strides in computer vision, AI can check that workers are wearing safety gear and that no one has been harmed on the factory floor.

Machines can help ensure that pay rises and promotions go to those who deserve them. That starts with hiring. People often have biases but algorithms, if designed correctly, can be more impartial. Software can flag patterns that people might miss. Textio, a startup that uses AI to improve job descriptions, has found that women are likelier to respond to a job that mentions “developing” a team rather than “managing” one.

Bad uses of AI in the workplace: lots of surveillance and monitoring (think Black Mirror or 1984 dystopia)

The more nefarious uses of AI in the workplace:

Companies are starting to monitor how much time employees spend on breaks. Veriato, a software firm, goes so far as to track and log every keystroke employees make on their computers in order to gauge how committed they are to their company.

irms can use AI to sift through not just employees’ professional communications but their social-media profiles, too. The clue is in Slack’s name, which stands for “searchable log of all conversation and knowledge”.

In the case of Veriato, I wonder if they got the idea for monitoring all keystrokes and tracking time to see how loyal employees are from the novel Snow Crash. It’s one of my favourite science fiction/cyberpunk novels. In the novel, the FBI has software installed on all its computer which actively monitor how an employee works: how fast they’re reading through memos, how quickly they’re typing up their reports and so on. All of that data is distilled into reports that show how loyal an employee is.

This was a science fiction novel and I wonder if some developers and companies forget that dystopian ideas should stay fictional.

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