“The science of making machines smart”: AI in the workplace

Image Credit: Pixabay Licence: AndGra

Aoife Rooney examines the benefits of certain AI mechanisms in the workplace , and the consequences of others.

The integration of AI in the workplace is something that has not only commodified the employee beyond their job description, but has had a plethora of positive and negative effects on thousands of companies globally. AI, or Artificial Intelligence, with regard to the workforce is focused in two main areas: monitoring and sorting. Every move an employee makes, whether that is ten too few keystrokes per hour as they work from home, or a virtual snitch looking over their shoulder as they take an extra ten minutes for lunch is monitored and noted by the artificial intelligence technologies that many companies choose to employ. The positive potential for what AI can accomplish with the correct usage is endless: there are virtual reality training opportunities, where more qualified senior staff could train younger graduates, or food delivery robots. Beyond these, there are many more, real-life applications of AI that can and should be introduced. The issue lies within the fact that it needs to be correctly legislated in order to avoid some of the abuse surveillance that has been seen to be occurring in business over the past decade or so. 

Most companies, unless the application process is extremely niche, will employ some form of artificial intelligence to whittle down the applicant pile, in an attempt to leave the stronger candidates behind, whose applications might then be seen by an actual person. There are many, many issues with this type of recruitment. Because applications are deciphered by a program, candidates are making attempts to bypass this level of selection by including certain keywords that would be deemed relevant to the role in the CV’s. While this is an easy hurdle to overcome, there are more worrying aspects to the selection process that applicants have noted. 

One recent graduate, José, noticed poor responses on what he considered a very polished and impressive CV when applying for jobs. He was not making it past the AI selection. He changed the name on his application from his own to Joe, and was immediately successful in progressing to the next round of recruitment. While it is a sinister thought that artificial intelligence would inherit learned biases, there are new forms of AI that prevent this type of discrimination from occuring. Pymetrics supposedly avoids biases around gender, ethnicity or socioeconomic status. Newer forms of AI used for recruitment now work by attempting to match a candidate's performance with those they already employ or those who themselves have succeeded in the roles that are being advertised. 

One of the issues large companies faced with the advent of working from home during the pandemic was the inability to ensure their employees were working when they said they were. To address this issue, AI tools are used to measure mouse movement, screen monitoring is in place and timers will tell employers how long it has been since an employee has used their device to work. While all of these tools are considered employee surveillance and are problematic in their own instance, these data gathering abilities are now providing companies with valuable assets - large amounts of information on their employees that are worth a lot of money. 

If a company is interested in improving productivity or corporate culture, one of the most effective ways to do so is to purchase bulk data as such, and examine it in a way so that patterns can be determined. This kind of data is unique and accurate, but due to the fact that it is increasingly becoming one of the most valuable assets available to employers, care needs to be taken in how it is gathered, stored and disposed of. Employees often feel violated and are lacking in privacy when information about them in their own home is so readily available. Employees need their privacy ensured, and should be made aware that there is a potential for significant profit to be made over their collective data. It is reported that 20% of Fortune 500 companies avail of this type of data collection. 

There is vast potential for the positive impact the integration of AI can have on a workplace, and its employees. There are excellent opportunities for industries like medicine or engineering to employ artificial intelligence to enhance and aid skilled professionals. In cases like these, AI can make a valid contribution to the work that is being done in these industries, with opportunities to give unique training that is only accessible to younger employees through advents made available by AI technologies. AI can be used for positive outcomes for employees, not corporations, but there needs to be legislation put in place to protect workers’ right to freedom and privacy with regard to their work, especially in the home, where you are not forfeiting the same social freedoms as one does when they work from an office.

AI can be used for lighthearted and whimsical means, but not as a recompense for serious breaches of employee privacy rights. Big data is a quickly evolving industry that is made possible by artificial intelligence, but like many industries that have seen massive, exponential growth, it is better to learn from the mistakes of the Zuckerberg’s and the Cambridge Analytica’s and treat data as the delicate asset that it is

A drone delivering snacks to employees should not be enough of a distraction from human resources sifting through employee emails in a meek attempt to evaluate corporate culture or employee fulfillment, or lack thereof.