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AI Ethics in the Workplace: What Employers Should Know

Balancing helpful innovations with employee well-being is the basis of responsible and ethical use of AI.

Posted by Ann Snook on May 1st, 2020

A survey by Gartner found that 37 per cent of organizations use AI in some way, which is a 270 per cent increase over just four years. That percentage will only continue to grow in the coming years.

AI is being used in nearly every industry, streamlining tedious processes to boost productivity and improve business functions. Many fields also use AI technology to problem-solve and innovate.

However, AI ethics is complex. Privacy and job security continue to be hot topics surrounding AI. To protect the best interests of both their company and their employees, employers should know how they can use AI technology in the workplace and the ethical considerations that come with it.

 

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How AI Is Used in the Workplace

 

Employers can use AI tools for a wide range of tasks. Knowing how the technology is used for each process can improve your understanding of potential AI ethics concerns.

 

Human Resources

 

Human resources professionals often wear many hats, so they don’t have time for tedious tasks. Use AI in your HR department to streamline:

  • Hiring and recruiting: screening resumes, scheduling interviews, communicating with applicants
  • Internal communications: answering questions about benefits or policies, translating calls between employees in different countries in real time
  • Onboarding and training: analyzing employee behavior and preferences to customize training
  • Employee retention: spotting indicators that an employee is about to quit
  • Career planning: analyzing tasks and courses taken to suggest skills to work on and education opportunities

 

Marketing and Sales

 

For marketing and sales teams, AI makes data analytics faster and easier. Rather than combing through endless numbers, marketers can use tools like GrowthBot to answer questions about website performance, audience and more. This gives them more time to devote to other tasks, saving employers time and money.

AI may also spot sales or web traffic patterns that human team members might miss. This technology can help marketers uncover a new target demographic or blog post format to focus on to boost sales.

 

Customer Service

 

Customer service departments can use AI to provide consistent communication 24/7. It also allows human employees to work on more complex cases while it handles simpler requests.

AI tools for customer service include:

 

RELATED: 5 Revolutionary Ways to Use AI for Customer Complaint Management

 

Fraud Detection

 

According to Jessica Greene of askSpoke, AI “helps identify security risks and keeps customer, employee, and company data safe. AI-powered software can automatically detect and address threats among thousands or millions of signals that humans would never be able to parse (especially not in real-time).”

The same sort of technology that financial institutions use to detect fraud can be used in the workplace. AI can spot indicators of both financial fraud and cybersecurity risks to reduce your company’s risk of internal and external fraud.

 

Administrative Tasks

 

Finally, AI can be used to complete tedious, repetitive administrative tasks in the workplace. For example, planning a meeting time for a large group can be difficult. AI tools analyze each person’s schedule, find a date and time that works for all attendees and arranges the meeting, all without employees communicating with each other.

One tool, Otter, eliminates the need for another tedious task: taking meeting notes. Otter records conversations and transcribes them in real time, creating searchable, sharable notes to reference later. This ensures accurate transcriptions, plus it allows employees to focus better on their meeting or call.

 

AI Ethics Concerns

 

While AI can help make employees’ jobs easier and protect your company, it also comes with ethical challenges. Employers should weigh the advantages of using AI tools against the negative impact they may have on employees.

 

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Privacy

 

Privacy is arguably one of the biggest AI ethics concerns. Many companies use AI tools to track employee behavior, but employers should know where to draw the line between being helpful and invading employees’ privacy.

For example, a company may require its employees to wear a smart watch to track heart rates, using AI to analyze this data to spot employees who are too stressed. However, if they then use the devices’ location data to track where employees are in the office at all times, it becomes an invasion of privacy.

Employers “might separate colleagues who distract each other (of course, this would be unknown to them), take steps to dissuade various requests, or persuade employees to change their hours to improve the employees productivity based purely on their bio data,” says Tim Purcell, R&D Director at Datel. “The consideration for businesses looking to utilise this type of information is that it is hard to imagine anyone consenting to this sort of data usage, even if they did have clear visibility over where and how their data will be used by their employer.”

 

RELATED: 16 HR Trends You Need to Know in 2020 (According to Experts)

 

Job Security

 

AI can complete tasks more efficiently than most humans. It can work 24 hours a day with no time off. It works consistently without slumps in productivity due to mood or fatigue level. For these reasons,  some employers might use it to replace some human employees.

However, employers can (and should) find ways for AI to work with human employees rather than replace them. Purcell suggests “using AI to add value and efficiencies to [employees’] jobs,” such as covering formulaic tasks so employees can focus on more meaningful ones.

“Where job displacement is inevitable,” he says, “look to provide re-training opportunities to those affected.” Managers should meet with employees to discuss their current skill set and goals and how they can be translated into another position or industry.

Employers should also try to reassure employees of their job security by involving “humans in the monitoring of the decisions made by AI to give confidence that there is still an element of human control.” AI isn’t completely perfect and still makes mistakes. It may also not be programmed to deal with certain situations. Teams made up of both AI and human employees ensure both efficiency and human intuition.

 

When AI is the More Ethical Choice

 

In some cases, says Bret Greenstein, SVP and Global Head of AI & Analytics at Cognizant, using AI in place of human workers is actually more ethical.

For example, turning physically dangerous jobs such as logging, roofing and even aviation over to AI could save thousands of lives per year. “AI, which can program machines to not only perform repetitive tasks but also to increasingly emulate human responses to changes in surroundings and react accordingly, is the ideal tool for saving lives,” he explains. “And it is unethical to continue to send humans into harm’s way once such technology is available.”

Greenstein also believes that AI must be used in healthcare. “If AI can prove to be better at finding dangerous illnesses in patients than humans (and at a lower cost and higher efficiency), it is morally indefensible to not commit the full resources of the health care industry toward building and applying that technology to save lives.”


Ann Snook
Ann Snook

Marketing Writer

Ann is a marketing writer at i-Sight Software. She writes about issues related to investigations of fraud, employee misconduct, corporate security, Title IX, ethics & compliance and more.

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