Blog and news
October 29, 2021

IFOW Newsletter October 2021 | The View from IFOW

Dear friends,

October has been a busy month for us, with a Strategic Review underway, the Pissarides Review into Work and Wellbeing building momentum and launch of our Knowledge Hub.  We’re delighted to welcome four new team members: Dora Meredith has joined as Head of Programmes, Dr Matthew Hall has joined as postdoctoral researcher in social sciences, and Stephanie Sheir and Gwen Barnard have joined IFOW as researchers. We’re also hiring for a Senior Communications Officer - apply by 12 November to join the team!

This week’s Budget shows that the Government recognises the importance of jobs in our recovery from the pandemic. Our full analysis is here. We recommend that the Government follows up the Budget by initiating a Work 5.0 Strategy, Good Jobs audit and Good Work procurement pledge to align and optimise commitments across departments, and help deliver on the Chancellor’s commitment to support future ‘good jobs’ across the UK (see my blog here). In the meantime, we’re working on a time series to our Good Work Monitor.

We’ve submitted our response to the Information Commissioner’s Office consultation on employment practices - and we’re pleased to announce a new project with the ICO too. Led by Head of Research Abby Gilbert, the project picks up one of our main submissions and explores higher levels of worker participation in auditing of algorithmic systems. We think this is necessary to understand what the real impacts are, influence how data is processed at work, and build trust.

Finally, if you haven’t checked out our new Knowledge Hub do try it and let us know what you think. We’ve used a curator model to surface different voices and share a wide range of perspectives on the future of work. A big thank you to everyone who’s contributed so far – and watch out for a new shelf on Innovation and Green Jobs to mark COP 26!

Have a good weekend,

Anna and the IFOW team

Anna Thomas
Director
Institute for the Future of Work

Deep Dive: update on the UK’s AI Regulation scene

The PM has announced that the Online Harms Bill will be brought back to the Commons before Christmas. This means that there are a number of distinct entry points for AI regulation in the UK, including the AI Strategy, proposal for a new Data Protection Regime and the Online Safety Bill. Common threads are identified in the 3 pillars of the AI Strategy: investing and planning for the long-term requirements of the UK’s AI ecosystem; supporting the transition to an AI-enabled economy across all sectors and regions; and ensuring that the UK gets governance of AI technologies ‘right’ at a national and international level.

The AI Strategy emphasises the UK’s history in law and governance, as well as technological breakthroughs, but there is, so far, no overarching proposal in advance of the White Paper on AI Regulation expected from the Office for AI in early 2022. Instead, the AI Strategy identifies three possible approaches under consideration. These are:

  • Removing existing regulatory burdens as potential barriers to innovation
  • Retaining a sector-based approach
  • Introducing additional cross-sector principles and/or rules specific to AI

Our research and others’ indicates that a pro-growth approach should not be conflated with the absence of clear, forward-looking regulation to help shape the best, value-creating innovation, reaffirm human agency and protect fundamental rights and freedoms. Steering the ‘right’ framework to maximise opportunities, address AI-specific challenges and serve the public interest will involve putting established principles of AI on a statutory footing, alongside the principles for Good Work, which reflect existing legal and social protections at a national and international level. It should incorporate new, overarching duties, applicable across the supply chain and AI life cycle, to identify those likely to be impacted, operationalise the precautionary principle, and take appropriate action in the context at hand.

More information can be found in IFOW’s Mind the Gap and our proposal for an Accountability for Algorithms Act to unite existing approaches and fulfil the ambitions of the AI Strategy.

We note that no Parliamentary Committee is currently scrutinising the AI Strategy so we are urging the BEIS, DCMS and/or Science and Technology Committees to initiate an inquiry as soon as possible. In the meantime, we’re looking forward to next month’s APPG on the Future of Work inquiry into the New Frontier and the Turing Institute’s Rule of Law Assurance Framework for AI Systems.

Interesting Reads

Our favourite, new reads out this month have been selected to invite informed discussion of the AI Strategy.

First is a blog from IFOW Head of Research Abby Gilbert for the LSE Review on who work is for in a  high-skill, high-tech economy. This makes the case that AI regulation is wage policy.

As technology policy determines how society works and is structured, we must ask who AI is for, as Pieter Verdegem does in a new book. Workers beyond the AI sector are impacted by developments within it, as demonstrated by this OECD review of the impact of online platforms on offline businesses. Using a new dataset the report makes the case that platform use increases labour productivity in firms operating in the same sector, and can level the playing field between SMEs and large companies, narrowing productivity gaps among firms. (Ensuring such gains are not at the expense of job quality, however, is critical as this blog from Joel Suarez explores).

While platform use among firms in the same sector may reduce the gaps between them, it does not necessarily reduce overall imbalances within the economy, as considered in this new UCL paper which re-examines antitrust narratives about big tech.

There is growing, wide-reaching analysis that governments have a duty to develop AI regulation, and that ethics-led approaches, while gaining popularity (as considered in this paper on the ethification of AI governance in the EU) will be insufficient alone.

Upcoming Events

Anna Thomas is among the stellar line-up of speakers at this year’s WORKTECH21 which is taking place in person on 16th & 17th November at Export Building, Republic. Buy your tickets here:  https://bit.ly/3nvv2R9

The Ada Lovelace Institute are running an excellent series of events in preparation for the Data: A New Direction. Catch up on their session ‘Accountable AI a route to effective regulation’ on Youtube now.

The Institute for Employment Studies are hosting an event on managing the return to the workplace Thursday 18th November at 2pm.

The RSA are hosting a series of events on Regenerative Futures and the Future of Work during COP26. Register for their ‘Green Jobs – The role of business in creating a more sustainable future’ event at 6.30pm on the 8th November.

The TAS Hub Pump Priming Call for Proposals invites UK Research Organisations to propose multidisciplinary and creative research on trustworthy autonomous systems (TAS) ranging from £50k-£150k. Projects will start around April/June 2022 and last up to 12 months.

If you have any ideas, comments or suggestions for our round-up, please drop us a line at team@ifow.org.

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Author

Anna Thomas

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