This past year was characterized by an unprecedented level of political awareness and action on artificial intelligence (AI) among workers around the world. This newfound interest has resulted in a number of unlocking achievements for the labor movement, most notably the creation of the International Labor Organization (ILO), a global agency devoted to tackling the challenges posed by AI. The ILO is currently working on a series of standards for AI-based work, which will aim to regulate the use of AI in employment and protect the rights of workers in the new digital workplace.
At the same time, workers have taken decisive actions in other forums as well. The European Union has committed to a legislative process to put worker protection and rights at the heart of its upcoming policies on AI. It has also set up a high-level expert group to develop proposals for new AI standards and policies. In the United States, a labor-supportive White House has initiated interdisciplinary research projects to ensure the protection of workers’ rights from AI applications, while several labor movements are working on their own plans to include worker representation in the development and use of AI in the workplace.
Despite these advances, however, there are still numerous challenges that workers face when it comes to AI. AI labor law remains largely unformed and unenforceable, and the rapid deployment of AI in the workplace is clouding the pathway to empowerment by posing difficult questions about the changing nature of the labor market and the role of workers.
The coming year will provide a litmus test for the power of labor to shape the development of AI. Workers will need to continue their push for representation in the decision-making process on AI. This will require innovative strategies to assert their rights and to demand more effective control over the development and use of AI in the workplace.
At the same time, labor will need to collaborate with other stakeholders, such as tech giants and policy makers, to find common ground. To do this, it will need to form coalitions and alliances that allow it to develop concrete policy proposals, while always ensuring that the interests of labor remain at the center.
As AI revolutionizes labor markets around the world, it is essential that workers remain at the table – and bring their voices to the conversation – in order to craft a model of ethical and equitable labor governance for the twenty-first century. This year, workers have already wrested a seat at the table on AI. The challenge now is what will they do with it.