Executive Summary

Based on an international study of on-the-job experiences with AI, this report draws from workers’ insights to point the way toward a better future for workplace AI. In addition to identifying common themes among workers’ stories, it provides guidance for key stakeholders who want to make a positive impact. These opportunities for impact can be downloaded individually as audience-specific summaries below.

Opportunities for impact for:

Across industries and around the world, AI is changing work. In the coming years, this rapidly advancing technology has the potential to fundamentally reshape humanity’s relationship with labor. As highlighted by previous Partnership on AI (PAI) research, however, the development and deployment of workplace AI often lacks input from an essential group of experts: the people who directly interact with these systems in their jobs.

Bringing the perspectives of workers into this conversation is both a moral and pragmatic imperative. Despite the direct impact of workplace AI on them, workers rarely have direct influence in AI’s creation or decisions about its implementation. This neglect raises clear concerns about unforeseen or overlooked negative impacts on workers. It also undermines the optimal use of AI from a corporate perspective.

This PAI report, based on an international study of on-the-job experiences with AI, seeks to address this gap. Through journals and interviews, workers in India, sub-Saharan Africa, and the United States shared their stories about workplace AI. From their reflections, PAI identified five common themes:

  1. Executive and managerial decisions shape AI’s impacts on workers, for better and worse. This starts with decisions about business models and operating models, continues through technology acquisitions and implementations, and finally manifests in direct impacts to workers.
  2. Workers have a genuine appreciation for some aspects of AI in their work and how it helps them in their jobs. Their spotlights here point the way to more mutually beneficial approaches to workplace AI.
  3. Workplace AI’s harms are not new or novel — they are repetitions or extensions of harms from earlier technologies and, as such, should be possible to anticipate, mitigate, and eliminate.
  4. Current implementations of AI often serve to reduce workers’ ability to exercise their human skills and talents. Skills like judgment, empathy, and creativity are heavily constrained in these implementations. To the extent that the future of AI is intended to increase humans’ ability to use these talents, the present of AI is sending many workers in the opposite direction.
  5. Empowering workers early in AI development and implementation increases the opportunities to attain the aforementioned benefits and avoid the harms. Workers’ deep experience in their own roles means they should be treated as subject-matter experts throughout the design and implementation process.

In addition, PAI drew from these themes to offer opportunities for impact for the major stakeholders in this space:

  1. AI-implementing companies, who can commit to AI deployments that do not decrease employee job quality.
  2. AI-creating companies, who can center worker well-being and participation in their values, practices, and product designs.
  3. Workers, unions, and worker organizers, who can work to influence and participate in decisions about technology purchases and implementations.
  4. Policymakers, who can shape the environments in which AI products are developed, sold, and implemented.
  5. Investors, who can account for the downside risks posed by practices harmful to workers and the potential value created by worker-friendly technologies.

The actions of each of these groups have the potential to both increase the prosperity enabled by AI technologies and share it more broadly. Together, we can steer AI in a direction that ensures it will benefit workers and society as a whole.