Politics by Automatic Means? A Critique of Artificial Intelligence Ethics at Work

doi: 10.3389/frai.2022.869114.

eCollection 2022.


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Matthew Cole et al.

Front Artif Intell.



Calls for “ethical Artificial Intelligence” are legion, with a recent proliferation of government and industry guidelines attempting to establish ethical rules and boundaries for this new technology. With few exceptions, they interpret Artificial Intelligence (AI) ethics narrowly in a liberal political framework of privacy concerns, transparency, governance and non-discrimination. One of the main hurdles to establishing “ethical AI” remains how to operationalize high-level principles such that they translate to technology design, development and use in the labor process. This is because organizations can end up interpreting ethics in an ad-hoc way with no oversight, treating ethics as simply another technological problem with technological solutions, and regulations have been largely detached from the issues AI presents for workers. There is a distinct lack of supra-national standards for fair, decent, or just AI in contexts where people depend on and work in tandem with it. Topics such as discrimination and bias in job allocation, surveillance and control in the labor process, and quantification of work have received significant attention, yet questions around AI and job quality and working conditions have not. This has left workers exposed to potential risks and harms of AI. In this paper, we provide a critique of relevant academic literature and policies related to AI ethics. We then identify a set of principles that could facilitate fairer working conditions with AI. As part of a broader research initiative with the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence, we propose a set of accountability mechanisms to ensure AI systems foster fairer working conditions. Such processes are aimed at reshaping the social impact of technology from the point of inception to set a research agenda for the future. As such, the key contribution of the paper is how to bridge from abstract ethical principles to operationalizable processes in the vast field of AI and new technology at work.


artificial intelligence; collective bargaining; ethics; industrial relations; job quality; labor; technological change; work.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

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