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AI in the world of work: Recognising potential, creating transparency

October 13, 2020

How can we in Europe ensure that it becomes a reliable and safe part of the new world of work? The Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has discussed these questions with partners in the EU from the fields of policy-making, business and research at an event of the series of discussions on the topic “New Work - Human-centric Work”.

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The world of work is changing rapidly. Artificial intelligence (AI) is a major driver of change that raises questions: Will we all be using self-driving cars soon? Will machines make our work easier? Or will they possibly take our jobs? Where does the data that AI needs to work actually come from? Is the data being used responsibly? These issues transcend national borders. For this reason, the Policy Lab Digital, Work & Society at the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs organised a symposium on the topic of "AI in the world of work" with experts from the ministries of EU member states from the fields of research and business.

In her opening speech, Dr. Julia Borggräfe, Director-General of Digital Transformation of the World of Work at the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, emphasised that AI is a central element of labour policy. "This is particularly evident in three areas: occupational safety, the application process and employee skills requirements.” In his introductory remarks, Stefan Olsson, responsible for employment at the European Commission, advocated focusing on the potential of AI instead of on fears. "We know from the past that such transformations create additional jobs in the end," Olsson said.

Rules for using AI

Afterwards, the participants of the symposium discussed AI in the context of work. Lucilla Sioli, responsible for the digital industry at the European Commission, outlined the current rules for the use of artificial intelligence in the world of work. In particular, she underlined the importance of cooperation between the EU and member states for a coordinated AI plan. After that, Paul Desruelle, head of AI Watch at the European Commission, and Dr. Markus Dicks, project leader of Germany’s AI Observatory, presented their activities and outlined the possibilities for cooperation.

The discussion panel that followed focused on how companies are already using AI today. The panellists Dr. Georg von Richthofen from the Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society, Professor Aleksandra Przegalinska from Kozminski University in Warsaw, MIT Fellow Wolfgang Zeiher, who is deputy chairman of the company works council at IBM, and Tobias Frenzel, who was responsible for the introduction of the HR chat bot CARL at Siemens discussed how AI is affecting the daily work of employees. Frenzel reported that CARL is being used in 36 countries already and has already become "a kind of colleague" for some employees.

Workshop participants identified important topics for the future

In three workshops, the experts examined the following aspects in greater depth: the role of AI in vocational training, in the application process and in occupational health and safety at work. After a lively debate, the workshop leaders presented the results. A central aspect was the desire for transparency in the use of AI in the workplace and for involvement of the employees.

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