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The future is now: artificial intelligence in the world of work

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) has long reached many aspects of our economy and society – such as the world of work. This became clear at the online symposium “AI in the world of work”, organized by the Policy Lab Digital, Work & Society (Denkfabrik Digitale Arbeitsgesellschaft), which gathered experts from the field of labour and employment policy.

Whether it is the living room that knows your temperature preference or the music app that automatically picks your favourite song while working out: most people associate artificial intelligence (AI) with smart home devices or leisure activities. The full potential of AI is seldomly recognized, and the most common associations are largely technology-centered. Very few people make an instant connection between AI and their work. However, in areas such as occupational health and safety, the recruitment, or with a view to changing skills demand: “The use of artificial intelligence has also arrived in the world of work and is not just a purely technological issue,” explained Dr. Julia Borggräfe, Director of the DG Digital Transformation of the World of Work at the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS), right at the start of the symposium “AI in the World of Work”.

“AI is a central element of labour policy and of paramount importance for us”.

Dr. Julia Borggräfe

The graphic shows drawings on the subject of AI in vocational education, including a robot, a book, and human figures.

Overview:

The graphic entitled “The Role of A.I. in Changing Skill Set Requirements and Vocational Education” arose during the workshop of the same name at the AI symposium and uses images to visualise individual aspects, illustrating the new requirements and possibilities that AI entails in the context of vocational education and empowerment.

Depiction:

At the centre of the graphic is an image of a robot and a human. The question as to what precisely “AI skills” are is seen on the purple piece of paper which the robot is holding in its right hand. This question is orbited and answered by various images, such as a smartphone on which the words “AI inside” can be seen, or an illustration showing three blue people at the top left of the graphic under which the words “new digital skills” are displayed. The new requirements that employers have of apprentices in the digital era are symbolised by two arms: the left-hand sleeve in the image shows the word “firm”, while the palm of the hand serves the word “request”; the right-hand sleeve in the graphic bears the word “market”, while the hand drops the word “unemployment”. An open smiling book with painted hands at the top right of the graphic, above which the word “schools” can be seen and whose outstretched hands point towards the words “personalised teaching”, symbolises the way AI can make learning more personalised. In addition, a speech bubble containing the words “new job opportunities” refers to the new potential for employment in areas such as big data (shown as an arrow emanating from the bubble).

This is just one of the reasons why the BMAS Policy Lab Digital, Work & Society hosted the symposium on October 1, 2020 as part of the German EU Council Presidency. In four hours, experts from academia, politics and the social partners discussed how artificial intelligence can be used for the benefit of the employees in the world of work.

Strengthening cooperation between labour and technology policy at EU level

The European Union plays a decisive role in ensuring a public interest oriented and human-centric development and use of AI. Moreover, the EU has the important opportunity to promote public understanding and acceptance of AI across national borders. In this context, it is crucial to strengthen cooperation between labour and technology policy at the European level. The German EU Council Presidency made “New Work – Human-centric Work” a priority in their agenda given that new forms of work have an impact on working conditions, pay and social security in all European Union Member States.

Stefan Olsson, Director for Employment at the European Commission, also endorsed the need for cooperation at the European level during the symposium. At the same time, he advocated for recognizing the great potential in AI rather than fearing its downsides. It is important to be aware of the challenges that possible job loss through AI can pose. “But history tells us that such transformations often end up creating more jobs,” explained the Director of DG EMPL.

Politics should think creatively, not act defensively

But how do we manage the transition into the future of work as smoothly as possible? A crucial aspect is to create a bridge between old and new professions – and that means updating qualifications. Here, Olsson called upon employment and social policymakers to be open and creative. In this context, Olsson highlighted specific EU projects, including for example the European Skills Agenda and the European Social Fund with its numerous programs, making it clear that “building such a bridge is of high priority for the EU”.

The graphic shows drawings relating to AI in the recruitment process, including a laptop, scales, and human figures.

Overview:

The graphic entitled “The Role of A.I. in Changing Skill Set Requirements and Vocational Education” arose during the workshop of the same name at the AI symposium and uses images to visualise individual aspects, illustrating the new requirements and possibilities that AI entails in the context of vocational education and empowerment.

Depiction:

At the centre of the graphic is an image of a robot and a human. The question as to what precisely “AI skills” are is seen on the purple piece of paper which the robot is holding in its right hand. This question is orbited and answered by various images, such as a smartphone on which the words “AI inside” can be seen, or an illustration showing three blue people at the top left of the graphic under which the words “new digital skills” are displayed. The new requirements that employers have of apprentices in the digital era are symbolised by two arms: the left-hand sleeve in the image shows the word “firm”, while the palm of the hand serves the word “request”; the right-hand sleeve in the graphic bears the word “market”, while the hand drops the word “unemployment”. An open smiling book with painted hands at the top right of the graphic, above which the word “schools” can be seen and whose outstretched hands point towards the words “personalised teaching”, symbolises the way AI can make learning more personalised. In addition, a speech bubble containing the words “new job opportunities” refers to the new potential for employment in areas such as big data (shown as an arrow emanating from the bubble).

Talking with each other, inspiring each other, staying in touch in a world that is always changing: much as a constantly evolving AI itself, the policy work at the European level needs to stay a constant flow of back and forth information. Dr. Markus Dicks, project lead of the AI Observatory and Wiebke Dorfs, policy advisor at the AI Observatory, emphasized the importance of exchange at the European level. The AI Observatory has the task of observing, developing and shaping AI in society, work and economic life in a participatory manner. In doing so, the focus is on dialogue with AI developers, AI users and society as a whole especially at the European level. Thus, AI Observatory aims at expanding its network to other comparable institutions in other EU countries and exchanging best practices on evidence-based policymaking.

Artificial intelligence: the future is already here

“We speak a lot of AI in the future form, but it is already here,” Stefan Olsson clarified. For example, many companies are already using AI as a helping tool – Siemens is one of them. In the panel discussion “AI in Companies - Insights in the Employment World”, Tobias Frenzel from Siemens presented "CARL" – a chat-bot helping employees search the company intranet. He reported that the tool has gained much use and appreciation within the company. However, the spectrum of AI applications is much broader, expanding into the field of language: “In addition to chatbots, the use of AI is also booming in text programs,” said Prof. Aleksandra Przegalinska from Kozminski University in the panel discussion.

With all the possible applications of AI, the question arises: How can the government support the development of AI in the world of work? For Dr. Georg von Richthofen, Researcher at the Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society, initiatives such as the AI Observatory are the right way – because they help companies to think about how AI can support employees in their work when using this technology.

The graphic shows images relating to health and safety in the workplace with AI and includes warning signs, a magnifying glass, and human figures among other things.

The event closed with some open questions but also with a lot of new insights and ideas. “I definitely learned new things about AI today”, Michael Schönstein, head of the analysis team at BMAS Policy Lab Digital, Work & Society, said. He concluded that concerning the questions AI raises, the discussion needed to be continued. And that is exactly what is going to happen: As the symposium is part of a virtual conference series on the future of work, there is much to look forward to. The series continued with a peer review on platform economy, and a high-ranking panel on vocational education.

 

Published on 04 Dec 2020 on the topic: Artificial Intelligence

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