The open letter published this week warning of extinction-level risk from a hypothetical superintelligence has kept AI - and regulation of it - in the headlines. Some have expressed skepticism about tech leaders clamouring for regulation of an theoretical future threat while resisting regulation of their products that are having real-world impacts on workers’ wellbeing in the present.
Our contention at IFOW is that a sharper focus on making work better is the best way to ensure that innovation and collective good advance together, and this includes developing appropriate workplace protections and obligations in response to new challenges.
Towards this, over the past weeks we have worked in partnership with the Shadow DCMS team to develop a set of ‘digital information principles at work'. These begin:
In line with international initiatives from - for example - UNESCO and the Council of Europe, they emphasise early assessment to prevent harm and multi-stakeholder collaboration. They also outline principles of meaningful collective consultation when AI systems are used and give assurances of human contact and clear, written explanations about what a system does.
Our APPG on the Future of Work is meeting on 7th June at 4:15-5:15 pm to explore workplace data protections and freedoms, with these ‘digital information principles at work’ as a background brief to inform discussion by our expert panel, hosted by our cross-party co-chairs.
We hope you enjoy the ‘deep dive’ below, and the interesting reads and events we have curated around our ongoing research.
Anna and the IFOW team
Two years or so after the worst of Covid-19 hit, and working from home became a necessity for so many, does remote working have a future?
Nick Bloom, William Eberle Professor of Economics at Stanford University, gave the 2023 IFS Annual Lecture exploring the question a couple of weeks ago, presenting detailed findings that suggest that it has become very much embedded, and has stabilised at five times the pre-pandemic level.
Those who can work in a hybrid way in a well-organised environment are 35% less likely to quit, are more productive and report being happier. Workplaces that support hybrid working also see improvements in diversity and inclusion and have extended their talent pool geographically. Many report being able to do better work at home as they don’t waste time on travelling and get ‘deep focus’ time (though - as Bloom is keen to stress - on average they spend 9 minutes less per day on personal grooming!).
Importantly, the benefits are only seen when hybrid work is well coordinated, and Bloom suggests that teams should work in-person on the same days to give face-to-face contact, and that lunches and coffee meetings should be proactively organised.
However, there are large variations across different sectors. Employees at technology firms are currently averaging 2.35 days working from home per week, whereas hospitality and food service employees are down at 0.63 - and these are figures aggregated across all wage bands in a sector. This raises concerns about the attractiveness of professions that do demand full-time in-person work, like education.
Our APPG event on 7th June looking at data rights in the workplace features our Director and Co-Founder, Anna Thomas (co-authored with Aislinn Kelly-Lyth), Professor Phoebe Moore and Professor Jeremias Adams-Prassl, all of whom have contributed articles to a special issue of the European Law Journal focusing on Regulating Algorithmic Management.
Our Director of Praxis, Dr Abby Gilbert, was interviewed by A__W______O about the development of our Good Work Algorithmic Impact Assessment tool, an AIA approach for worker involvement that focuses on building and sustaining dimensions of the Good Work Charter. Their monthly roundup across the field of algorithmic governance is really worth subscribing to.
Daron Acemoglu (MIT) spoke at our January Future of Work and Wellbeing conference on 'shaping the technological transition for the benefit of all'. He has a new book co-authored with Simon Johnson considering what we can learn from history about how to ensure that the next wave of technological progress feeds through into better living standards and higher wellbeing for citizens.
His contribution from our January conference is here:
Vast amounts of data gets collected yet, oddly, we know little about how digital technologies are transforming employers’ work practices in British firms. A new study from the Digit Data Observatory seeks to understand the limitations of existing employer-level datasets and the challenges for policymakers attempting to steer the digital transformation of work in the absence of a rigorous evidence base.
Plantations, Computers, and Industrial Control
Signal’s President, Meredith Whittaker, argues that Charles Babbage’s proto-Taylorist ideas on how to discipline workers are inextricably connected to the calculating engines he spent his life attempting to build.
Digit Futures at Work Research Centre Innovation Fund
This is open to applications now, with grants ranging from £10,000 to £50,000. Digit welcomes applications from those exploring how digital technologies are transforming work, and particularly applications that plan to engage with stakeholders through policy forums, roundtables, or other creative ways to engage those working in business, third sector and policy.
APPG on the Future of Work - Digital Principles at Work? (7th June, 4:15 pm, Westminster)
IFOW acts as secretariat for the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Future of Work, co-chaired by Matt Warman MP and Lord Jim Knight. On Wednesday the 7th we have the next session of the Future of Work review that they are conducting, focusing on data rights in the workplace with an expert panel including Professor Phoebe Moore and Professor Jeremias Adams-Prassl.
CIPD Festival of Work (7th – 8th June, London Olympia)
This free two-day event is aimed at resourcing HR, Learning and Development and communication in businesses as firms look to understand the future of work. We are delighted that our Director, Anna Thomas, will be speaking as part of a panel discussing how AI and automation can be used responsibly to build good work.
Reimagine data rights now! Protecting individual data isn't enough when the harm is collective(7th June, online)Rights Con is a global gathering on human rights in the digital age. Our friends at Connected by Data are represented their by their Executive Director, Jeni Tennison, who will be on this panel on June 7th.
London Tech Week (12th – 16th June, Queen Elizabeth Centre, London)
London Tech Week aims to showcase how technology is transforming business and society through thought-provoking conversations around innovation, diversity and transformation. Our Director, Anna Thomas, will be chairing a panel on Governing Digital Skills: Bridging the gap Between Enterprise and Government, with speakers Gori Yahahya (Founder & CEO, Upskill Digital) Elina Lam-Gall (Deputy Director, Learning and Workforce Transformation) and Gina Gill (Chief Digital & Information Officer, Ministry of Justice Digital).
From algorithmic fairness to algorithmic robustness and back - (21st June 2023, 1-2 pm)
All machine-learning systems use labelled data to train them and often rely on complex relationships and distant correlations found in the training dataset. This can lead to problems with embedded inequality and bias. Novi Quadrianto - Professor of Machine Learning at the University of Sussex - will explain why it is crucial to develop models that are both algorithmically robust and fair.
CogX Festival - How Do We Get The Next 10 Years Right? (Sept 12th-14th)
We are pleased to partner again with CogX, whose cross-disciplinary festival of ideas this September looks at the challenges that we need to get right over the next decade. We helped them develop their Future of Work stream, and look forward to the wide-ranging programme that they have on offer this year.
Thank you for your time and interest. If you have enjoyed this newsletter, please subscribe here.