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Workers worry more about Big Brother surveillance than losing their job to a robot

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Fears of surveillance tops the public’s list of concerns about the use of new technology like AI and robotics at work, the first report of the RSA’s Future Work Centre warns.

Good Work in an Age of Radical Technologies argues that the threat of new machines lies more in how they will change the nature and substance of work, including recruitment practices, performance monitoring, scheduling and business models.

Dubbed by some as ‘algorithmic management’, the study highlights new software on the market for employers, which can:

  • log staff behaviour on office computers, including browsing history and keystrokes. This data is then used to create a productivity baseline and flag anyone performing poorly
  • use credit card sized devices that can be worn by workers to monitor their mood and understand team dynamics, such as who is dominant in conversations and who appears most engaged
  • AI-powered video technology that analyses candidates during job interviews. Among the data points it captures are intonation, verbal responses and facial expressions.

Half of workers worry about tech leading to excessive monitoring a Populus poll commissioned for the Future Work Centre’s launch finds.

Meanwhile 44 per cent worry about falling pay packets, 38 per cent worry about having less autonomy, and 36 per cent worry about being discriminated against, suggesting “bread-and-butter” issues are more of a concern than headlines of future mass job losses to robots.

The survey also reveals:

  • Brexit is seen as a bigger destroyer of jobs than automation: 33 per cent of workers think our terms of exit from the EU will lead to the most job losses, versus 27 per cent who fear new tech entering the workplace. But wealthier (AB) social groups are more concerned about the potential impact of Brexit (40 per cent) than automation (24 per cent), while those in the DE social groups cite automation as their top fear (34 per cent vs 31 per cent).
  • Tech companies are viewed as the main winners from technology in the workplace – but also the best placed to shield workers from its effects: 42 per cent of workers see tech companies as the biggest winners from the use of technology at work, while 37 per cent say employers, 13 per cent consumers and just 6 per cent say workers. But 64 per cent say tech companies can do the most to protect workers, compared to 42 per cent who say employers and only 22 per cent who say trade unions.
  • Households are ill-prepared for a shock, and don’t think the welfare state can help them. Most workers say they lack a safety net in the event of their job being automated. Only 18 per cent say the government could support them with their living costs. 64 per cent agree they would be in a situation where they would struggle to make ends meet (39 per cent strongly so).



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