“WWe cannot let existential risks blind us to the challenges we face today,” says Gina Neff, technology expert at the University of Cambridge and co-chair of a new TUC task force on intelligence. artificial in the workplace. “These challenges are real and we all face them. »
Rishi Sunak is hosting a global AI security summit in November, amid chilling concerns raised by tech gurus – some of whom have even warned the technology could destroy humanity.
Sunak, a Stanford graduate, is known in Westminster as an aspiring West Coast tech brother, with his trademark hoodies and Palm Angels sliders, and has spotted the ‘existential’ threats being touted by some of the biggest names of Silicon Valley.
Neff welcomes the Prime Minister’s decision to convene this summit. But today, with no hoodie in sight, she sat down with two other tech experts – employment lawyer Dee Masters and TUC activist Mary Towers – to discuss a more immediate threat, albeit less apocalyptic, of AI: the risk. to workers’ rights.
“We need to look at people’s realities, not the science fiction of the future,” says Neff, director of the Minderoo Center for Technology & Democracy in Cambridge.
To that end, the TUC Task Force, launched next week, aims to develop groundbreaking legislation to protect workers from the misuse of AI.
“The UK is globally positioning itself as a global leader in responsible AI. So if we want to take on this leadership role internationally, we have to walk the talk,” she said.
Towers, who leads the TUC’s work on AI, says workers already face algorithmic hiring and firing and high-tech surveillance of their every move – but the recent rapid development of AI Generative AI means the impact is felt in more sectors.
She cites “the invasion of privacy, the intensification of work, the increase in precariousness at work, but also the risks of discrimination”, adding that these are “issues that are different from the types of risks that are currently highly publicized and are being advocated and exhibited by the technological brethren”.
The task force plans to produce a draft new law next spring, which it hopes can then be passed by any government, regardless of party.
Labor chairman of the business select committee Darren Jones and former Conservative cabinet minister David Davis will sit on the task force’s advisory board, alongside trade body TechUK, as the TUC strives to bring together a broad coalition in favor of the action.
“We have a data protection law. We have a right to privacy, and we have an assortment of labor law rights that are very, very old, rather than being written and put together with those issues in mind,” says Masters, co-founder of the AI Law Consultancy, who will draft the legislation with colleague Robin Allen KC.
“We’ve always had bad employment practices, haven’t we? But what’s different today is the potentially hidden bad employment practices in the black box,” she says.
“Rather than a manager making a decision and you being able to challenge it, it could be an algorithm warning you, and that warning could have been issued based on incorrect data,” she adds.
“People may not be aware of the really important decisions that are made about them. And this is a real change. So it’s not just technology, but also technology and data that people don’t have visibility into, and algorithms and code that people don’t have visibility into.
The TUC has already called for a new right to have any ‘high risk’ decisions affecting workers – such as hiring or firing – reviewed by a human being; and receive face-to-face contact about these decisions. He would also like staff to be consulted before the introduction of major new technologies.
Recent controversial examples include drivers from food delivery company Just Eat who report being “deactivated” from the company’s app for minor infractions; Uber drivers file lawsuit over facial recognition tech they claim wrongfully stopped them from working; and call center staff are monitored via webcam while working from home.
Just Eat and Uber said humans review all key employment decisions.
Neff believes that the rapid developments of the past few months mean that now is the time to come up with a new set of ground rules. Its co-chair is TUC Deputy General Secretary Kate Bell.
“We have many discussions going on in our company about what this technology will be and how we want it to generate benefits for the future. But if we don’t have people around the table, representing different voices in a democratic way, then the choices society makes won’t reflect those values,” says Neff.
Towers insists she and her union colleagues are not trying to block the use of AI, which she says could have transformative effects on many jobs, helping eliminate laborious or repetitive tasks. and making work more rewarding.
But she says they have at least something in common with the much-maligned Luddites – 19th-century textile workers who fought against the adoption of new weaving technologies.
“The Luddites were in favor of social justice and we are also very much in favor of the fair and equitable sharing of the rewards and benefits of technology in the workplace. And there’s no reason why only a very, very narrow interest group can benefit from these rewards,” she says. “We are resolutely pro-innovation, provided that it is a fair innovation. »