Jurassic Park Revisited: When Will We Hit the Wall with Artificial Intelligence?

As I imagine, we got some traction on the latest blog post, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” Thus, we have a part two to this discussion to open up the topic and let it breathe. Please join me and take a swig….

When you decide to buy a car and have a model and color picked out, the next thing you notice is that everyone seem to be driving that same model. They even seem to like the color you chose the best! This is called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon; or more commonly, the frequency illusion. Sorry to say, no one is impressed with your choice of transportation.

After I wrote that previous blog entry, I started to see so many articles that had to do with this same topic. At first, I chucked to myself thinking about the cognitive bias mentioned above, until I encountered an article in the Economist, which I’ll retitle: The Professional Panopticon.

This article is about how companies are spying on their employees and it proved some very scary facts and reported sneaky approaches. Yes, that topic alone should have you wanting to read the whole thing, but that was not my focus (remember Baader-Meinhof?).

AI is at it again

In the article, one of the ways that employers are spying on employees is through the use of artificial intelligence. Everything from monitoring emails and Zoom calls, down to keyboard keystrokes on your computer. One company uses AI to listen to your voice and flags it if you sound irritated. What do they do with this knowledge? Who knows?

Much of this new trend in snooping came from the work-from-home (WFH) phenomenon that arose from the pandemic. To evaluate you as an employee, many supervisors relied on “seeing” for themselves whether you were working. When everyone went home, that tactic also left. During an interview, I suggested that this change in work location should put pressure on managers changing their leadership tactics. Some did, but some didn’t.

Time to adjust

As you can imagine, the privacy issues have escalated now where state governments are looking to add or amend related laws to deal with this new approach to so-called management. On May 7th, the State of New York installed a new law that states that an employer must divulge to employees that they are monitoring all employee communications. Connecticut and Delaware are doing something similar as well. (Editor’s note: Be sure to view this episode of #HRTechChat and register to view this webinar, both unrelated to regulations around AI-supported employee monitoring, but pertinent to the topic of regulators’ nascent efforts to govern other uses of AI vis-à-vis human capital management. Each broadcast features 3Sixty Insights Co-Founder Brent Skinner and his  guests, retrain.ai Chief Operating Officer and Co-Founder Isabelle Bichler and Robert T. Szyba, an employment litigation attorney and partner at Seyfarth Shaw LLP.)

We have seen the rise of AI stretching the bounds of law and morality. As I mentioned in the first blog post, I am certain AI technology will continue to exponentially grow, but should it? Can the law keep up with personal boundaries? How much can we endure in the short term to get to a better place with this technology?

Some even feel dehumanized

The intent of some of these AI surveillance technologies are pointed: to help workplace environments. Examples are decreasing bullying, increasing productivity, and decreasing discrimination. Yet, it’s reported that AI in the workplace is having the opposite effect. In a study of 2000 employees, nearly half pretended to be online busy, a third reported to feel the need to prove they are being more productive, and 20 percent felt dehumanized by the surveillance practice. In response, a third of people surveyed reported that they installed anti-surveillance software to circumvent online monitoring.

All of these “helpful” practices have backfired, and employee productivity is now plummeting. The decrease in both job satisfaction and trust has led to this drop. In another study, three-fourths of the respondents reported that there is more downside than upside to AI surveillance. And yet another study reveals that most employed people favor non-digital monitoring such as one-on-one in-person check-ins.

Creeping into Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

If this blog post ended now, there would be sufficient rationale to be alarmed, but AI technology continues to forge into new territories, some that currently are sensitive. The article goes on to report that some analysis found that AI facial recognition technology finds black faces to be angrier than white ones. By the way, this issue is not new. The technology found in airport bathroom sinks that turns on the water when you wave your hands are partial to lighter skin tones than darker ones.

Still sold on AI?

If we’re being honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that this is all worrisome—just like something deep inside seemed to be telling you as you saw genetically cloned dinosaurs populating the eponymous amusement park in the film Jurassic Park. Again, as I said many times and will continue to say, AI technology is here to stay. Like everything else, there are people that will get a bloody nose by being the first to run through that brick wall. Eventually the wall will come down, and AI will find its rightful place in our society. However, in my estimation, there will be a very big price to pay to get there. Are we willing to pay the price? I’m not sure we have a choice.

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