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AI in context: the labor of integrating new technologies

30 Jan 2019

In this report, we provide new evidence and frameworks for thinking about the near-term impacts of automated and AI technologies on society. Our report demonstrates the necessity to integrate rather than deploy AI technologies and to account for how AI technologies reconfigure work practices rather than replace workers. We examine two American work environments in which AI technologies often are imagined to have great disruptive potential: agriculture and retail. Specifically, we analyze technologies being used in farm management and grocery retail, contrasting the utopian (and dystopian) visions that tend to accompany AI with the mundane realities of current automated technologies.

Our report demonstrates the ways in which automated and AI technologies tend to mask the human labor that allows them to be fully integrated into a social context while profoundly changing the conditions and quality of labor that is at stake. In our discussion, we focus on the ways in which this dynamic shifts ingrained community norms, interpersonal relationships, daily routines, and skill sets. We find that although new skills are often required, they are usually unacknowledged and uncompensated. We also find that adopting new AI technologies produces economic risks that are not evenly distributed among stakeholders, wherein more vulnerable or precarious communities are exposed to greater risks and harms than those who control the design or use of AI technologies.

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