As we saw in previous articles in the Future of Work Series, the workplace landscape has been changing as a result of various factors, including the introduction of artificial intelligence (“AI”) and the continued automation of certain tasks in the workplace. While various industries in Australia have used automation to streamline processes in their workplace such as XERO in accounting, automated machinery in factories and the use of GPS technology to create real live updates for e-commerce, the use of AI technology is the most significant technological advance that has the potential to completely transform our lives and work. This article examines AI in the workplace.
Recent Advancements in AI
AI technology is still in its earlier stages of development as far as its impact on work. However, this is rapidly changing and one type of AI that has the real potential to completely change how we work are chatbots. Many industries that are customer facing such as banks, utility companies and mobile phone providers, have implemented chat bots in the workplace to answer customer queries and concerns in a more efficient and cost-effective way.
Further, there is one AI chat bot in particular which has been gaining a lot of popularity in the last couple of months, and which has the potential to change the future of the workplace landscape. This chat bot is called ChatGPT. ChatGPT is a chat bot which is trained to follow an instruction or a prompt and generate human like responses to questions almost instantaneously. Due to the advanced nature of this free AI tool and its accessibility, many people have been using this tool to:
- write research papers;
- create presentations;
- write emails;
- create reports;
- design images; and
- complete many other tasks previously only humans were able to perform.
As such, it is likely that employees in many different industries may start to use ChatGPT to assist them with their work. While this could improve productivity in the workplace and introduce additional benefits both to the employees and the employer it comes with a number of significant risks. We focus here on the impact AI can have on employment and employment issues.
Benefits of Introducing AI into the Workplace
AI has the ability to introduce various benefits to the workplace from automation of repetitive tasks, answering routine questions, providing easy interfaces and introducing benefits of computer learning. As such, AI can be used by employees in the workplace to increase their productivity, automate repetitive tasks and decrease human error.
In other industries such as e-commerce, businesses such as Amazon have implemented AI technology to optimise its production, logistics and to create algorithms which allows the business to market its items more effectively and with more precision. Clearly these tools can lead to cost savings, faster processing times and more efficiency in the workplace.
Further, with the introduction of ChatGPT, employees and businesses alike will likely use this tool in order to assist them to do their work or do it much faster. As many businesses are now becoming aware of the benefits of AI and are starting to think about the possibility of investing in, or implementing AI technology in the workplace, it is inevitable that AI technology will become more widespread and will bring many benefits to the future of the workplace. However, employers must also be alive to the fact that while AI can be extremely helpful for businesses, the risks of AI must also be understood, and addressed, to ensure that AI is used beneficially and does not ultimately create a significant detriment to your business.
Risks of Using AI in the Workplace
Although there are many benefits of using AI in the workplace, the use of AI raises legal concerns, ethical concerns, and privacy concerns which may impact both employees and employers. It is entirely possible for employees and their employers alike to become reliant on AI and fail to properly or rigorously review the work product. This can lead to significant immediate risks but also long-term loss of skills and ability to actually perform basic analysis, review, and the like. It is important for employers to ensure that their employees using any form of AI, actually know what the AI is replacing, and ensure the skills necessary to ensure a proper work product is maintained. This may mean a complete rethinking of performance management by employers.
There are also concerns around issues such as accuracy and bias when dealing with AI tools such as ChatGPT. Although AI tools such as ChatGPT are very advanced, the output of the data that is generated by ChatGPT is only as good as its input. This means that employees are asking ChatGPT the wrong questions or not providing enough information, ChatGPT can generate incorrect data. Further, AI tools such as ChatGPT do not have context in relation to the topic it is being asked about and as such, can generate content that is misleading or incomplete. In addition, since ChatGPT uses data from various sources to generate its content, there is the possibility that the content that is generated is based on biased sources and therefore can lead to outcomes that are skewed to a particular view.
The use of emerging AI such as chat boxes and ChatGPT, raises the real issues of privacy and the protection of confidential information. How do businesses in this new era, protect their data from being used by AI, and then disseminated widely? Data breaches have become an increasingly difficult area for employers to navigate, and the introduction of advanced ChatGPT like intelligence will only exacerbate this issue. If AI is able to access any data on the internet, what does that mean for employers who have gone to great lengths to protect their intellectual property, which may now be susceptible to these forms of AI? These are all matters that businesses should be considering now.
It goes without saying that the use of AI is likely to lead to significant redundancy of roles that can be performed better and faster than a person. As we have seen with automation, and businesses that have implemented AI, in many cases AI can replace lower-level positions that are repetitive or that will no longer be needed as a result of AI. As businesses start to think about implementing AI, they should also consider the jobs that will be affected and the people who may be displaced. This is an opportunity to retrain employees to perform their roles in more efficient ways, to upskill staff and ensure that any AI is used to benefit both the employer and the employees.
Deciding Whether to Allow AI to be Used in the Workplace
Whether your business incorporates AI technology or allows AI to be used in the workplace by its employees, is ultimately a business decision. However, in any case, employers should be proactive and take measures to:
- create policies and include clauses in employment contracts which safeguard the businesses’ privacy and confidential information in the context of using AI tools; and
- create policies which outline whether the use of AI is allowed in the workplace (and if so, to what extent it is allowed).
Further, we advise employers to put measures in place to ensure their employees know about the policies and are aware of the consequences of not abiding by those policies. We note that the area of privacy, and the use of AI, are quickly evolving areas, and as such, employers must keep up to date with recently introduced or amended legislation to ensure that their business is compliant and to avoid any privacy concerns or risks.
This is a timely reminder that various provisions in the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) Act 2022 (Cth) (“Act”) will be coming into force on 6 June 2023. These provisions include, but are not limited to:
- The prohibition on pay secrecy clauses in employment contracts;
- Amendments made to flexible working arrangements; and
- Amendments in relation to enterprise agreements.
For further information regarding these upcoming changes, please see our previous article. However, we recommend that employers check their contracts of employment to ensure they do not contain pay secrecy terms, as penalties apply to contracts that offend these provisions after 6 June 2023. We also recommend, employers ensure their practices regarding responses to requests for flexible work arrangements are in line with the new changes.
If you require any assistance or information in relation to this alert or timely tip, please do not hesitate to contact us.
This alert and timely tip are not intended to constitute, and should not be treated as, legal advice.
This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please also note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.