Blog and news
May 1, 2024

IFOW May 2024 Newsletter

We are very proud of the whole team for their incredible achievements this last month. Alongside publishing major research outputs - which have been years in the making - we also launched our Responsible AI Sandbox – realising our longstanding objective to put theory into practice in the governance of workplace technologies.

Local and regional elections take place this week, shining a spotlight on the vital area of regional administration and devolved powers to local mayors. The recent APPG on the Future of Work session on productivity saw Philip McCann – Chair of Regional Economics in Manchester – highlight the need for greater devolution to enable regions to respond effectively as technological transformation brings mixed challenges and opportunities for each local area.

AI and automation technologies are disrupting these local labour markets, but our Disruption Index (see below) exposes a highly-skewed geography of investment. This highlights that the regional inequalities shown in the 2024 release of our Good Work Time Series – tracking access to good work across 203 local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales – are at risk of further entrenchment.

But it need not be this way, and this is the reason we’re excited to embed our Sandbox, which looks to understand processes and practices of technology adoption decisions in firms, and how risks to good work can be mitigated.

Wishing you a restful Bank Holiday weekend.

Anna, Abby and the IFOW team

Deep Dive - research-led Responsible AI Governance

Published as part of our Nuffield-funded Pissarides Review, the Disruption Index (DI) is the culmination of nearly three years of work on how AI and automation are changing labour markets. Overlaying multiple datasets, it reveals, for the first time, the geography and scale of technological transformation and how, region by region, this is linked to venture capital investments, research and development and local ‘readiness’ factors like skills and ICT infrastructure.

The pronounced regional inequalities that it exposes offer a radical reframing of the Levelling Up agenda and invite a reset of relations between tiers of government. It also underpins our earlier work, based on a survey of 1000 UK firms, examining how innovation readiness and management practice influence how the adoption of AI impacts job quality.  

Taken together, this work suggests that a more intelligent, place-sensitive approach to AI governance may be needed – right from its beginnings in investment, through design and development and - most critically - during deployment.

Responding to this, on the 22nd of April in a packed room at The Shard, we launched our Responsible AI Sandbox, looking to centre good work in AI governance. This uniquely couples support for businesses in responsible technology adoption with a panel of UK regulators and professional accreditation bodies. This allows the experiences of businesses to inform practical application of good work-focused AI governance approaches that will make for better regulation.

Find out more about this important new dimension to our work – and how you can get involved in it if you are a business looking to be a trailblazer in responsible AI adoption – here.

Interesting reads / listens

Commodification of Care work and Surveillance technologies

In the latest blog in our Research Fellow series, Dr. M Winter discusses the commodification of care work by exploring the changing relationships between care work, gender and technological transformation. Read the piece here.

Growing public unease: Measuring AI Trends

The Seventh edition of the AI index report by Stanford University has just been released. This provides a comprehensive portrait of the current state and trends in AI across different sectors of the economy. Key findings this year include the rising cost of training Frontier Models, and the lack of robust and standardised evaluations for tracking LLM responsibility. Find the report here.

Devolving powers, and ‘deep engagement in communities’

This powerful piece from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation discusses the multifaceted nature of poverty and its impact beyond material lack, offering a comprehensive exploration of poverty to encompass powerlessness and social exclusion. Resonating with the calls for further devolution at our recent APPG event, it suggests innovative approaches such as focusing on asset-based practices, community engagement, and integrating lived experiences into decision-making processes, at a strategic and service delivery level. Similarly, our Reframing Skills explainer calls for the importance of understanding skills outside of traditional technical capabilities. This holistic emphasis is one of the foundational tenets in the Good Work Monitor, which promotes quality work environments that prioritise well-being and social inclusion. Read the JRF article here. 

More revenue generated, but the arts still facing major cuts

Despite the creative arts sector generating more revenue than cars, oil, and gas combined, arts education in the UK faces budget cuts, highlighting a disconnect between economic value and investment in the sector. This piece in The Conversation asks why. The rise of GenAI technologies like ChatGPT means a transformative shift is fast materialising in creative work that could affect worker precarity, authorship, and dignity. The potential economic of this means there is an urgent need to understand and address the issues in play. IFOW is partnering with Queen Mary University, the University of the Arts, London and the Alan Turing Institute on the UKRI-funded CREAATIF project, aimed at crafting responses to these challenges, especially for creative freelancers. We'll be reporting on this shortly.

Are robotics causing a decline in the meaningfulness of work?  

New research published in Science Direct has analysed the impact of automation and robotics on the meaningfulness of work. It suggests that there is a decline in the perceived significance of jobs due to technological advancements. This links well with our recent publication about the impacts of automation and workers’ wellbeing – finding that newer technologies are linked to negative impacts on quality of life. Read the paper here.

Mentally stimulating work plays a key role in staving off dementia

The work we published in our Good Work Monitor showed that ‘access to good work confers protection for people and communities against health, social and economic shocks. Now, a new research paper - Trajectories of Occupational Cognitive Demands and Risk of Mild Cognitive Impairment and Dementia in Later Life - measures that effect. It finds that people in routine and repetitive jobs have a 31% greater risk of disease in later life, and 66% higher risk of mild cognitive problems.  

Hidden Automation at Amazon

Amazon has moved to roll back on its 'Just Walk Out' style of 'no checkout' shops. Though it seemed completely automated, "Just Walk Out relied on more than 1,000 people in India watching and labeling videos to ensure accurate checkouts. The cashiers were simply moved off-site, and they watched you as you shopped." Read the article here. This speaks to automation being so much more than 'robots coming for jobs.' Our paper Reframing Automation is a deep dive into the different ways that AI and automation technologies capture value, and have different impacts on different people's work, in different places.


The Future of Work in the Age of AI (5pm, 2nd May, Saïd Business School, Oxford)

Our co-founder, Professor Sir Christopher Pissarides, alongside Professor Daron Acemoglu and Professor Helen Margetts, will be speaking on the best way to use AI technologies to create meaningful and well-paying jobs in the future.

Daron spoke at our Pissarides Review conference in January 2023, and also wrote a blog for the IFOW site based on his work, which you can read here.

Register for the lecture here.

Festival of Sustainable Education (8th May, University of Sussex)

The University of Sussex Business School is hosting the inaugural Festival of SustAInable Education which will explore the intersection of sustainability, artificial intelligence, and the future of education. The festival will feature a keynote address by Sophia, the world-renowned social humanoid robot created by Hanson Robotics.

Register here.

Building a Better Britain: How Cities Like Bradford Can End Economic Stagnation (16th May, Bradford)

In partnership with the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, the Resolution Foundation is hosting this event following their 'Stagnation Nation' report, focusing on regional inequalities and strategies for revitalisation.

As our recently launched Disruption Index highlights, these inequalities go beyond traditional ideas of 'levelling up', with the stark inequalities in technological transformation and investment concentration risking further entrenchment of these regional inequalities. Technology adoption presents great opportunities for innovation and social good to go hand in hand, but this will require cross-cutting policies, guidance for businesses and regulation.

Register for the Bradford event here.

'Data-Centric' - is the key to AI that is {responsible, accountable, sustainable, explainable} ...or just another buzzword? (1.30pm, 14th May, online)

The term "Data-Centric AI" (DCAI) suggests that the next generation of robust, fair, and responsible AI systems with sustainable performance requires an iterative, human-in-the-loop process involving complex patterns of data selection, engineering, and curation, model training, model testing, deployment and monitoring.

In this talk at The Alan Turing Institute, Prof. Paolo Missier will explore this perspective, and suggest that providing infrastructure to systematically record the end-to-end, data-to-AI patterns in detail is key to achieving explainability, reproducibility, accountability and sustainability...

Register here.

We are very proud of the whole team for their incredible achievements this last month. Alongside publishing major research outputs, which have been years in the making, we also launched our Responsible AI Sandbox – realising our longstanding objective to put theory to practice in the governance of workplace technologies.

Thank you for your time and interest.

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Anna Thomas


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