Workers Are Terrified About AI, So What Can They Do About It?

Times were tough in England in the early 19th century. The Napoleonic Wars devastated the country’s economy. To save costs, wealthy textile factory owners replaced skilled artisans with automated machines to create their goods. The workers fought back – quite literally – by raiding factories and destroying machines in these factories in what became known as the Luddite movement, named after its sham leader. raids.

Today, Luddite is synonymous with new tech deniers—but we’ve seen similar struggles and frustrations with employers echo throughout history, from the assembly line from Henry Ford, to mass food production, to self-checkout lines at the grocery store. The most recent episode is currently happening in response to the AI ​​boom.

Since the release of ChatGPT late last year, we’ve seen it hailed as a turning point in the tech world, something we haven’t seen since the advent of social media and the internet. And it has led to the pouring of billions of Big Tech dollars into AI, and a wave of companies quickly embracing the technology—to the detriment of workers. Unions and activists were caught off guard, and now they are doing everything they can to fight back before it’s too late.

Perhaps the most striking example of this is Writers Guild of America Strikes began in April following disputes with the Union of Film and Television Producers. While the majority of the union’s requirements involve higher balances for shows on streaming platforms, entertainment writers also call for management ARRIVE “regulate the use of materials produced using artificial intelligence or similar technologies.

“What I like about what the Writers Guild is doing is that they are publicizing it, speaking out and expressing it,” says Elizabeth Shermer, an associate professor of history specializing in labor rights studies at Loyola University. Daily beast. “Giving an idea of ​​what’s really going on in the industry is fundamentally important.”

It’s not just the Writers Guild who are against using AI to replace their labor. Media companies like Cnet, buzz feed, And Insiders There have been several major layoffs in recent months, with each company adopting the use of artificial intelligence AI to produce cheap, low-quality content. Workers responded quickly, if slightly disturbed: Both buzz feed And Insidersunions tried to secure some layoffs for some laid-off workers, while CnetThe editorial board of about 100 workers is in the process of merging.

Along with the Writers Guild’s strike and speed is said to be reckless Where companies are willing to adopt a technology that is virtually unproven, tested, and clearly harmful, the world seems to be plunging headlong into a labor struggle it hasn’t seen in a long time. The “move fast and break things” ethos that put the tech giants of this century on the map in the 2000s now seems to be rising thanks to artificial intelligence—putting workers in precarious situation they had no choice but to fight back.

The problems workers are facing with AI are not new. Bots have disrupted and changed the landscape of the economy for years. Uber and Lyft couldn’t wreak havoc on the taxi industry without its underlying AI, and the same goes for the likes of Postmates and Grubhub for the food industry.

Shermer refers to this massive change as the “virtualization” of work. Companies and businesses don’t need to hire full-time or part-time employees when they can get someone to do it on contract for less money and no benefits. With the release of ChatGPT, we are seeing AI being used to accelerate that transition at a dizzying pace.

“One of the big benefits of the gig economy from an employer perspective is that a lot of our rights are actually tied to our jobs like healthcare,” says Shermer. “The majority of Americans are looking for employer-based plans. That’s why American businesses have really high labor costs compared to other western industrialized nations.”

At its core, what automation does—whether through looms, assembly lines, or AI—is desk labor. You no longer need to be an extremely skilled textile artist, car manufacturer or software developer if there is a machine that can do it for you. However, you may have spent a lot of time and energy learning those skills.

When this happens, any workforce out there will have to do less of the actual, skilled work and more of taking care of the machines — or looking after the AI.

Emily M. Bender, professor of linguistics at the University of Washington, told The Daily Beast: “Instead of actually doing creative work or original thinking, it becomes a double-check output, which easily turns into a double-check output. patchwork work. “Then you get the expansion of the gig economy into more sectors.”

“The reason this is important is because, when you take away the skills someone has, you are taking away the power they have to bargain for better wages and benefits, which is real,” says Shermer. importance in the American context,” Shermer said. “Our basic rights are tied to our work.”

The result, then, is not only the loss of jobs and livelihoods, but also one’s identity and ability to function as a fully functioning citizen. If you are working in the formal labor market (i.e. a full-time job not in the gig economy), you should be able to pay social insurance. The more financially stable you are, the more likely you are to become participate in the democratic process. Then, automating your labor with AI is more than just dollars and cents—it becomes an existential threat to your rights as a human citizen.

What can workers do then to protect their rights as more companies begin to automate their work? First, they can vote and encourage legislators to take a tougher approach to regulate emerging technologies like AI.

In the past few weeks alone, Congress has held hearings with the likes of OpenAI CEO Sam Altman for this very purpose—although elected officials seem to have learned all lessons wrong from hearings. However, with Congress notoriously incapable of regulating the tech industry in a timely manner, workers may not necessarily want to bet on lawmakers to help them.

Workers can also form unions, bargain collectively with companies for better wages and benefits, and be protected from automation as the Writers Guild is currently doing. However, even that has obvious limitations as companies continue to lay off large swaths of their workforce. Meanwhile, companies where workers are not able to organize effectively can also be left behind.

But when it comes to labor rights, Shermer says, it’s not a sprint but a marathon. “It’s a constant battle to make sure that people have democracy at work,” she said. “That’s the whole point: empowering people to realize their humanity at work, so they can have a say not just about pay and benefits, but really about how they’re treated. “

The reality is that AI will most likely replace a lot of workers in the coming years. The problem is not if but when. ONE economic report announced by the White House at the end of 2022 even admitted this: “It is inevitable that workers in some jobs will be replaced as AI automates rather than augments the tasks of workers,” adding that “changing jobs is expensive for people with redundancies and can be disruptive to the overall labor market.”

So until there is meaningful legislation to protect workers and undo basic human rights like healthcare for workers, the coming wave of automation is sure to hurt. painful for many people.

In the end, it didn’t matter how many textile mills and mills they broke into. Luddites still lost the battle against the machines. Only time will tell if the same will happen to workers whose jobs and livelihoods are at risk from seeing their roles automated by algorithms. However, as the adage says: history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.

“It’s basically an ongoing battle,” she added. “It’s been the same since we had the assembly line.”


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