Summary: Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the engines powering the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). AI promises to reduce the inefficiencies and biases that come with human decision-making and boost economic productivity. It is already widely used as a tool in our daily lives from helping doctors make accurate diagnoses, flying planes and also by online retailers to provide accurate and targeted marketing. However, as well as productivity benefits, AI technologies also hold potential to either bolster inclusivity or further cement exclusion and bias.
AI is poised to new challenge our concept of diversity and inclusion at a time when the technology is becoming a crucial business asset. The challenge is to ensure that workplace inclusion considers how the machine and worker relationship is evolving and how this changing dynamic will impact the end consumer and wider community.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the engines powering the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). AI promises to reduce the inefficiencies and biases that come with human decision-making and boost economic productivity. It is already widely used as a tool in our daily lives from helping doctors make accurate diagnoses, flying planes and also by online retailers to provide accurate and targeted marketing. However, aside from productivity benefits, AI technologies also holds the potential to bolster inclusivity or further cement exclusion and bias.
By enabling the deployment of technology to those with limited access to services, the divide between those who are part of the ‘connected’ world, and those who are not, can be narrowed. For example, in areas where medicine is too expensive to procure, or the area is inaccessible, AI technologies can offer solutions that lower the costs and ease of access while simultaneously engendering better outcomes. In addition, in geographies suffering from political or economic crisis, AI-based technologies can provide early-warning systems for governments, NGOs and multi-stakeholder organisations about impending humanitarian and human rights crises allowing life-saving preparation on quick delivery of support and relief.
However, despite the potential of AI, universal success in its plight to improve people’s lives is impeded by barriers – some logistical, some social. For example, without careful integration 4IR technologies can exacerbate structural, economic, social, and political imbalances that reinforce inequalities based on demographic variables such as ethnicity, race, gender, gender and sexual identity, religion, national origin, location, age, and educational or socioeconomic status.
The benefits of having a vibrant corporate culture driven by clearly defined core values, such as inclusion, ensures a motivated and capable workforce that is competitive. The importance of retaining and nurturing a strong workforce was particularly brought in to focus during the global economic downturn of 2008. As markets faltered, traditional organisational models were challenged and only the nimble, able and innovative companies succeeded during the crisis. Consequently, we have learnt that diversity and inclusion are at the heart of organisational success, rates of innovation, social mobility, and equality before the law. As we enter the fourth industrial evolution and a raft of new technology appears in our workplace and throughout our daily lives, there is likely to be a shift in how society operates. For example, as AI becomes integral to business operations, it is likely to challenge our concept of inclusion as the relationship between worker and machine becomes even more complicated. Indeed, this relationship is likely to have ramifications outside of the workplace, affecting end consumers and society generally.
This is because despite their potential, AI technologies can develop in silos based on the values and beliefs of the developer, excluding insight from different industries, disciplines, social classes, cultures, and countries. Consequently, there is a widening gap between those who have access to data and the ability to understand their impact, and those who do not. This emerging divide could jeopardize equal treatment of people within and among nations. For example, when researching links between race or gender bias and AI technology, researchers found that facial recognition systems can reinforce structural bias if the system fails to understand skin-type or gender. In addition, where data cannot be collected from a particular social or economic group – they are excluded from consideration by the AI algorithm and the resulting solutions may serve to reinforcing the ways in which these groups are marginalised. Further,
In practice, the education sector provides a clear example. Whilst AI-based educational technologies such as digital tutors, intelligent virtual reality may enhance educational outcomes, the complex interplay between data sets and algorithms that power AI-based technologies often lead to questions around discrimination, transparency and accountability, as well as privacy and safety of those who are using these rapidly emerging technologies.
AI also creates uncertainty around the future of labour causing lower skilled workers concern about the future existence of their jobs. In addition, undefined governance and accountability frameworks leave open the possibility for exploitation of loopholes that could detrimentally affect certain sectors of society. This lack of governmental guidance means that the burden of ensuring diversity when implementing AI will fall to the business implementing AI systems. To do this, the company will need to begin with examining their own team to ensure a diverse workforce is applying the technology and considering its impacts on all ranges of consumers, from there, the business needs to consider its impact on each area of society and if one area is entirely excluded or will be prevented from benefitting fully from the service provided, changes should be made.
Whilst this is beginning to change, and governments are beginning to recognise the importance in governing the integration of 4IR technologies, there is much to be done to prevent the negative impact of exclusion. It is therefore crucial that when implementation of AI is considered, the wider societal context is also accounted for. Technology should be made as widely available as possible, ensuring the service it provides caters to all and not a privileged few.
To narrow the digital divide and drive inclusion, greater efforts must be made engage as many stakeholders as possible in deployment of AI technologies, particularly may be most impacted. This effort is being helped by a raising interest and demand for developing a more equitable work environment so that all areas of society can benefit from new technology, not just the privileged few.
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