Algorithms are not Artificial Intelligence

Last week, the TUC released a report calling for more worker protection from the use of Artificial Intelligence, the latest technology area to become part of the mainstream. They cited issues that are already causing problems in the workplace. But are they talking about the wrong thing?

In recent years, the use of technology has become more prevalent in the workplace. One area where this is particularly true is in the field of Human Resource Management (HRM). Specifically, the use of algorithms and Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become increasingly popular for making decisions about employees. However, there are important differences between “management by algorithm” and the use of AI in the workplace that employers need to understand.

Management by algorithm refers to the use of pre-programmed rules to make decisions about employees. For example, an algorithm may be used to determine which employees are eligible for a promotion or to decide which employees should be let go during a downsizing. In this approach, the algorithm is designed to apply a specific set of rules to data about employees, without any human intervention.

AI, on the other hand, involves the use of machine learning algorithms that can analyze large amounts of data and learn from it to make better decisions over time. For example, an AI system may be used to analyze employee performance data to identify patterns and make recommendations for how to improve performance.

One of the key differences between management by algorithm and the use of AI is the level of human intervention involved. In management by algorithm, there is little to no human input in the decision-making process. This means that decisions are made purely based on the rules that have been programmed into the algorithm. However, in the use of AI, human input is still required to train the AI system and ensure that it is making accurate decisions.

Another important difference is the level of transparency involved. With management by algorithm, the rules that the algorithm uses to make decisions are often not made public. This can make it difficult for employees to understand why certain decisions were made and can lead to a lack of trust in the system. In contrast, the use of AI is often more transparent, with the system providing insights into how decisions were made and allowing for feedback and adjustments.

Additionally, there is a difference in the potential for bias. Management by algorithm can be more prone to bias because the rules that are programmed into the algorithm can reflect biases that exist in the workplace or society as a whole. However, the use of AI can help to reduce bias by analyzing large amounts of data and identifying patterns that may not be immediately obvious to humans.

In summary, while both management by algorithm and the use of AI involve the use of technology to make decisions about employees, there are important differences between the two. Employers should be aware of these differences and carefully consider the potential benefits and drawbacks of each approach before implementing them in the workplace. By doing so, they can ensure that they are making informed decisions that support their employees and their organization as a whole.