The rise of artificial intelligence (“AI”) has often been associated with doomsday scenarios and sci-fi movies that make a huge hit at the box office. In reality however, AI’s potential has been largely labelled as a threat to humanity, and incapable of any real regulation. Despite these interesting beliefs, in the last few years, AI has seen increased use all over the legal sector, among others: be it for legal research, document automation, and contract analysis – or case prediction and blockchain agreements.
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, concerns over job loss and global economic crashes have somewhat reasonably mounted. As an employment lawyer, I have seen the disheartening reality of mass unemployment, and unfair severance packages to weather the storm. Despite its perceived assistance in economic collapse, however, AI has the potential to retrain employees in new skills, and bridge a wage gap that, in capitalism at the very least, continues to reinforce itself in worldwide daily life.
To begin this analysis, it is important to remember what AI’s purpose and capabilities truly are. Artificial Intelligence, at its core, is the simulation of human processes by machines. Specific applications include expert systems, natural language processing, speech recognition, and machine vision.
AI uses these capabilities to effectively assess data, and create tangible results.
In the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen the rise of remote working arrangements for corporate bodies and their employees, at the expense of mass job loss in the labour and service sectors. Universal basic income, or the Canada Emergency Recovery Benefit (“CERB”) became a very real reality and concrete attempt at maintaining some sort of equilibrium in our economy. However, while the CERB was effective at allowing some individuals to maintain certain standards of living, to a degree, it did not assist with job satisfaction or retraining employees in new, previously unchartered, job markets.
Employees that were able to quickly and efficiently transition to remote working arrangements saw an increase in their work-life balance, and the ability to achieve new levels of life satisfaction and arguably good mental health. Working from home, by default, allowed employees to maintain certain work structures that could contribute to a better, more fulfilling lifestyle. However, as remote working arrangements were available to only a minority, many others failed to achieve this sense of well-being, and only saw the prior economic gap become one of poor mental well-being.
Given the above, it is worth considering what the potential for AI is and how it could contribute to lessening, as opposed to emphasizing, the economic – and mental – gap. AI, at its core, has potential to assist economies with labour and service sector jobs, while allowing former employees in those positions to retrain themselves in new, better paying industries – industries that also have the potential to create a healthier lifestyle, and more life satisfaction. For example, in Shanghai, restaurants utilize robots as waiters. While one perspective is job loss, another can very well be technology training to develop the 'robot waiters' – which has the potential to increase the former employee’s income, skillset, and by default, their lifestyle and life satisfaction.
As AI continues to develop, human touch services and work with cultural elements will become much more valuable. Although universal basic income, or the CERB, permitted employees to be able to pay some bills over a period of time – employment itself assists with self-actualization, dignity, and the potential for not only economic – but personal – success. As a result, using and leveraging AI can effectively bridge the gap between income levels – and mental well-being.