Odds are that you are already using artificial intelligence in your workplace whether or not you actively seek out this technology. Advanced search engines, recommendation systems, targeted advertising, virtual assistants, and facial recognition software are just a few examples of technologies that rely on AI. While AI has been around for decades, recent advancements have sparked new questions and concerns regarding the ethical implications of artificial intelligence from privacy and security to copyright infringement. With this in mind, we decided to explore how AI may impact ethics in the workplace, both negatively and positively.
AI Related Ethical Concerns and Possible Solutions:
Common areas of concern regarding the use of AI in the workplace include privacy, bias, copyright, fraud, and sustainability. According to the SHRM article, “HR Must Be Vigilant About the Ethical Use of AI Technology,” by Roy Maurer, “HR and business leaders are being drawn into the conflict between the competitive advantage the technology can provide and concerns about negative implications like unintended bias.” The idea that AI could promote bias may come as a surprise. After all, AI is data driven and incapable of emotional decision making. In reality, it is this reliance on data that gives AI the potential for bias.
If AI technology learns from a flawed data set, its performance will also be flawed. The article explains that to combat this issue, steps must be taken to ensure that data sets are holistic and free of bias, pointing out a New York City law that prohibits employers from using AI and algorithm-based technologies for recruiting, hiring, or promotion without those tools first being audited for bias. Regarding employee privacy, the article mentions surveillance technology that analyzes workplace behavior to predict if an employee is about to quit. While this is certainly valuable information for employers, it is questionable whether this technology infringes on one’s right to privacy.
Ethical dilemmas like those noted above are why UNESCO adopted its “Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence,” on November 23, 2021. Defining artificial intelligence as “systems with the ability to process data in a way which resembles intelligent behaviour,” UNESCO aims to protect human rights and dignity by creating guidelines for ethical AI development. The recommendation includes the following ten core principles:
1. Proportionality and Do No Harm
2. Safety and Security
3. Right to Privacy and Data Protection
4. Multi-Stakeholder and Adaptive Governance and Collaboration
5. Responsibility and Accountability
6. Transparency and Explainability
7. Human Oversight and Determination
9. Awareness and Literacy
10. Fairness and Non-Discrimination
In the workplace, acting on these principles might look like the following:
● Weighing the pros and cons of specific AI technology related to its use with employees, customers, and vendors
● Making careful and informed decisions when selecting AI products or services that rely on AI such as hiring tools.
● Honoring employees’ right to privacy when making decisions regarding the use of employee surveillance technology.
● Creating policies to govern the use of AI within your organization, collaborating with a diverse team of stakeholders.
● Disclosing how and why your organization uses AI.
● Leaving employers ultimately responsible for decision making, using AI insights as one of many factors that guide the direction of your company.
● Frequently evaluating AI products used by your organization to ensure its validity and the absence of bias.
● Providing AI related information and training to all members of your organization, explaining workplace policies regarding the ethical and responsible use of AI.
Potential for AI to Promote Ethics in the Workplace
While advancements in artificial intelligence bring about legitimate ethical concerns that must be addressed, these advancements also bring about promising solutions to ethical problems across all industries. The BBC article, “Workplace AI: How Artificial Intelligence Will Transform the Workday,” touts AI’s potential to increase accuracy and correct biases, stating, “AI also has the power to catch some issues people might overlook.
This can mean a range of things – for instance, spotting inaccuracies in text, checking code or even circumventing biases and prejudices workers may not even be aware they have.” While we know that biased data leads to biased outcomes, AI can impartially analyze high quality datasets – often better than humans.
In addition to the above benefits, AI can also be used to prevent fraud. According to fraud.com’s article “Artificial Intelligence – How it’s used to detect financial fraud,” “By leveraging machine learning algorithms, AI can quickly and accurately analyze large volumes of data to identify suspicious transactions and patterns that may indicate fraudulent activity.” This technology can be used to identify a wide range of fraudulent activity, including identity theft, payment fraud, and healthcare fraud.
As with most technological advancements, artificial intelligence is a tool that is neither inherently harmful nor beneficial. The ethical implications of the use of AI in the workplace are entirely dependent on the ways in which it is used. The responsible use of artificial intelligence involves making decisions that prioritize privacy, security, non-discrimination, and human responsibility. When used appropriately, artificial intelligence has the potential to transform your workplace for the better.
Want to learn more about ethics? See our article here.