The Memo: Algorithms, writing jobs, and the future of work

Group 723.png

Algorithms, writing jobs, and the future of work

Jamie Rocha-Sharp – 13 February 2023

The three laws of robotics probably aren’t going to solve everything just yet, and in recent weeks, the UK's workforce and employment lawyers have been feeling the effects of its introduction into the economy. Company heads have undoubtedly been turned towards AI’s fast and low-cost labour, but its impact has come to the fore as writers and copywriters are beginning to compete with AI-generated copy.

Newly developed algorithms are able to generate written content for websites, press releases, and even fiction for next to nothing. Yet a state of war between humans and machines is probably premature. In this context, AI may present an opportunity for a tool to help the human writer to lift copy, rather than replace them entirely. This isn’t a particularly new idea, after all, grammar and spell checkers are simple forms of AI that most writers use on a daily basis. On the more advanced end of the scale, Chat GPT, a chatbot developed by OpenAI, was recently enlisted by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to write a speech about ‘why digital tech is important.’

Employment lawyers have been quick to set up shop in the new tech playground, to ensure that everyone will play fair. For one thing, AI undoubtedly presents new litigation risks for employers, who are often looking to cut costs and increase efficiency with new management tech. These management algorithms have been said to create the risk of ‘algorithmic discrimination’, where latent biases in the algorithms themselves reflect the designers own unconscious prejudices. In cases where workers are being recruited, made redundant, rated and allocated work via AI, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and other groups are calling for new legal protections to regulate the use of AI and prevent the dystopian nightmare of a hire-and-fire machine stalking meeting rooms like an automated Anne Robinson.

To protect against automated decision-making, AI must currently be checked for its compatibility with anti-discrimination laws, such as the Equality Act 2010. One recent example saw Amazon scrap a recruitment tool that preferred male over female candidates. The TUC is calling for it to be made a legal requirement for companies to have a human review decisions made by AI algorithms, so workers can challenge any decision that appears unfair or discriminatory.

How AI is integrated into everyone’s working life’s will be a matter for case law and legislation– and the need is urgent. After all, how effective the legislation is could mean the difference between sharing a desk with Jarvis from the Iron Man series or M3GAN.