Artificial intelligence (“AI”), the workplace and diversity

18 October 2018 | 3:03pm

A failure to embrace AI will lead to “stagnation or elimination” for businesses, according to GlobalData, a data and analytics company.  Speakers at Jersey TechWeek (15-19 October 2018) talked about the explosive combination of humans + machine intelligence, which will enable quicker and better working, “allowing people to do much more”.  What does AI mean for the workforce in Jersey?


Education of the workforce

Speakers at Jersey TechWeek spoke enthusiastically about the positive changes that AI would bring, in terms of enabling greater workforce productivity.  The mantra seemed to be that tech developments would create as many new jobs as they would cut.  It is arguable though that this perspective fails to address the reality of the way in which automation impacts on the workforce, which is by getting rid of less skilled workers and those who find it hardest to adapt to change. 

The States of Jersey's Statistics Unit’s Q3 2018 report on those actively seeking work notes that unemployment increases at the age of 45 for women and 50 for men.  This snapshot tallies with the experience of those who provide employment advice: older workers are the ones most likely to lose their jobs when restructuring takes place.  Others in the workforce may be made redundant from time to time, or may have their employment terminated for disciplinary or performance reasons, but redundancy slices away the oldest in the workforce – including the longest serving and most loyal members of a team. 

When it comes to automation this kind of makes sense: this is the sector of the community which didn’t “grow up with digital”.  There may be a lack confidence when it comes to technology. 

But excuses don't cut the mustard and this issue must be addressed as a matter of urgency.  Some people will be fearful of engaging with ideas and equipment they don’t identify with but no-one should be enabled to opt out: government, regulators and business must work together to drive through a dynamic upskilling agenda that keeps Jersey relevant.


The diversity imperative

Questions around diversity and unconscious bias must be discussed openly and frankly, given changing demographics, increases in pension age and the stark under-representation of women in the boardroom and technology roles.  Again and again, research demonstrates that diversity leads to superior financial performance.  In addition, companies with women directors deal more effectively with risk than those without – something which is clearly relevant when it comes to transforming businesses through innovation and disruptive technology.


Discrimination and unconscious bias

Use of AI in business needs to be considered carefully in this context, given that AI systems can unwittingly replicate the unconscious biases of programmers:


“An algorithm that was being tested as a recruitment tool by online giant Amazon was sexist and had to be scrapped, according to a Reuters report.  The artificial intelligence system was trained on data submitted by applicants over a 10-year period, much of which came from men, it claimed.  Reuters was told by members of the team working on it that the system effectively taught itself that male candidates were preferable.”  



Businesses which pick the wrong AI provider could end up in trouble because it may be no defence to say “It wasn’t me”.  Under Article 33 of the Discrimination (Jersey) Law 2013 anything done by an agent on behalf of a customer may be taken as done by the customer, whether or not it was done with the customer’s knowledge or approval.


How tribunals will interpret this provision when the villain is an AI system – rather than a human recruiter – remains to be seen, but the day may come when an AI system will be treated as a legal person.  What we can say is that AI is transforming the way we live.  Let’s get with the programme.


Advocate Vicky Milner is an employment law specialist at Callington Chambers.  Callington Chambers is a boutique Jersey law firm providing employment and information law advice and representation.  We also have an interest in technology law and mental health.  Click here for more information about us and the services we offer.