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Artificial Intelligence could increase homelessness – what should companies do to protect workers?

6/3/20 – Ryan Scott, Student Intern, Human Rights Center

Companies need to invest in training and education so AI works for everyone, writes Ryan Scott

The growing field of technology promises innovations that will improve quality of life for all, or at least those that can afford to own or use the means. Yet while the United States and much of the industrialized world enters this new age of technology, the focus on progress seems to leave out one of the most vulnerable groups in society: the homeless.

With the homelessness growing in the United States, is there room for this group in a world where most entry level jobs will be covered by Artificial Intelligence (AI)? AI is defined as the theory and construction of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence.

According to a report by the Executive Office of the President National Science and Technology Council Committee on Technology in 2016, the use of AI could make some skills unnecessary, while other skills will be highly sought after to complement the use of machinery.

Many of the skills that will be needed require intense training and background knowledge. The report states that a world with AI calls for a “data-literate citizenry that is able to read, use, interpret, and communicate about data, and participate in policy debates about matters affected by AI”.

According to Article 23.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there is a right to work as well as protection against unfair termination from employment. The growing use of Artificial Intelligence over human workers leaves hundreds of workers in jeopardy of being replaced by technology and threatening the availability of employment.  

Workers can be easily replaced by AI technology that can execute tasks faster, work longer days and is more efficient. People living in extreme poverty and homeless may lack important training or skills, making them unable to compete with AI technology for many jobs, and creates a barrier to them being hired to work the technology.

For people without access to the training or education needed to use and understand Artificial Intelligence, their ability to find work in this type of world will shrink. In years since the release of the 2016 report, the introduction of simple machinery in transportation, the service industry, and other sectors has already eliminated the need for human workers to do certain tasks.

According to a study done on the percentage within the US alone that could be classified as homeless, between 2017 and 2018, the percentage of homeless Americans rose by two percent. Within this population includes children, veterans, individuals with mental or physical disabilities and others.

This population is at risk of being harmed by AI taking away entry level jobs that could otherwise be done by a human being. An example of the growing trend toward AI presenting problems for those homeless or living on the brink of becoming so is the service industry.

Artificial Intelligence, as described by Jerry Kaplan is his book “Humans Need Not Apply: A Guide to Wealth and Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence”, will lead to the end of service jobs, such as taxi drivers, and an increased demand for workers to control the computer programmes which request drivers.

With this change in employment opportunities, a new set of skills will be required of workers to handle advanced technology like AI. Workers will be expected to be familiar with AI before being hired which will make homeless individuals without the means to enroll in training less attractive candidates or keep them out of the certain service jobs completely. 

Many businesses have already started to incorporate smart technology that cuts the need for workers to do certain tasks. Within a decade or so, the use of smart technology and AI could further the wealth gap by limiting the amount of jobs accessible to those with no specialized training in a field and those with the means to work with technology.

While AI could pose a major threat to the homeless and low-level income populations of the United States, there have been efforts done by large organizations to mitigate the expected loss of human workers in job fields.

According to the World Economic Forum, technology designers must be ethical in their creation of computer programming and AI technology. The Forum goes on to offer advice such as offering proper education and training to workers, using AI to help with repetitive tasks as opposed to entire jobs, and distributing opportunities to work equally.

These pieces of advice will be key for businesses to incorporate so to prevent the elimination of  hundreds of jobs for individuals in need as well as promoting a more data-literate society without excluding large sections of the population in the process. 

This content was originally published here.