Data dilemma: will algorithmic systems erode good work?

This WORKTECH Wednesday Briefing looks at the downside of data-driven systems for worker wellbeing and autonomy, the rise of the AI-powered office window, and the chance to attend a design thinking masterclass

An acceleration of digitisation and the use of data in the knowledge-based workplace is widely acknowledged as one of the silver linings of the Covid-19 crisis.

But as data-driven algorithmic systems are rapidly deployed across the wider world of work, the picture is far less positive according to a new report from the UK-based Institute for the Future of Work (IFOW), which warns about the dangers of the platform economy for millions of workers in Britain.

The report, entitled ‘The Amazonian Era: How algorithmic systems are eroding good work’, is based on a study of frontline workers and technology developers in the retail, logistics, manufacturing and food processing sectors. It paints a picture of ‘almost total surveillance, collecting and processing data about every aspect of working life, in real time.’

‘The downside of algorithmic systems with automated targets is the hit to worker wellbeing…’

Although the report acknowledges that new technologies have ‘vast potential’ to augment human skills and improve both the quality and quantity of work, the downside of algorithmic systems with automated targets is the hit to worker health and wellbeing. Human skill, judgment and initiative can be eroded by such an approach.

The report pulls no punches on what is happening right now: ‘Concerns about the impacts of automation have tended to focus on fears of mass technological unemployment. But we find it is not the replacement of humans by machines but the treatment of humans as machines that defines the Amazonian Era.’

Recommendations from the IFOW include new legislation and initiatives to govern algorithmic systems in order to protect the digital rights of workers, create greater company disclosure around the use of algorithms and support the idea of ‘good work’ in a more secure and human-centric workplace. As AI-powered technology is set to lead the post-pandemic charge, the paper makes sober reading. Download the Amazonian Era report here

Smart window use AI

Artificial Intelligence (AI) may be fast infiltrating all aspects of the office, but did you know that it is even set to shape our view through the window? Smart windows incorporating AI are being installed at a New York office tower currently being renovated at 100 Pearl Street in Lower Manhattan.

GFP Real Estate and Northwind Group are repurposing the building to create a premier downtown New York City office with all-glass penthouses offering 360-degree views across the East River towards Brooklyn and south over the harbour to the Statue of Liberty.

The design of the double-height, 24-foot all-glass penthouses are made possible by View Smart Windows, which are said to use AI to tint automatically, optimising natural light and views of the outdoors while minimising heat and glare. The windows are designed to make buildings healthier, smarter and more energy-efficient. Developers and landlords are peering through the looking glass with interest.

Design Thinking masterclass

As companies plan their strategies to address the emerging landscape of hybrid work, the role of Design Thinking as an innovative methodology to navigate complexity and change is rising fast up the business agenda.

To help organisations and individuals in the WORKTECH network get to grips with new tools and ideas in this field, WORKTECH Academy director Jeremy Myerson is leading a Design Thinking and Innovation Masterclass this autumn in partnership with the Royal College of Art and the Design Museum. The virtual masterclass takes place over four days 23, 24, 27 and 28 September (9.00-12.30 BST). You can find more details here. For members of the WORKTECH network, there is a special 10 per cent discount on the masterclass fee. Access this offer here.

In our WORKTECH Wednesday Briefings, we reach out to our 10,000-plus Academy members, WORKTECH attendees, speakers, partners and sponsors while WORKTECH’s professional conference series continues through our virtual platforms. This edition is posted 28 July 2021.
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