White House, Labor look to protect workers from AI-fueled harms

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The Labor Department put out new guidance to encourage employers and AI developers to consider worker empowerment amid AI technology deployment.

The Department of Labor and the White House jointly announced a new framework on Thursday designed to protect U.S. workers from adverse consequences of deploying artificial intelligence systems in the workplace, fulfilling another mandate of the Biden administration’s October 2023 executive order on AI.  

The Labor guidance suggests eight principles for AI developers and employers leveraging AI in the workplace: centering worker empowerment; ethically developing AI; establishing AI governance and human oversight; ensuring transparency in AI use; protecting labor and employment rights; using AI to enable workers; supporting workers impacted by AI; and ensuring responsible use of worker data. 

Centering worker empowerment is highlighted as the key principle. The principles are intended to be sector agnostic and referenced within the lifecycle of AI technologies, from design to development, testing, training, deployment, use, oversight and auditing.

Establishing clear and transparent oversight methods is a key theme in the principles, with a focus on upskilling the existing workforce — an ongoing effort within the federal government’s approach to managing AI deployment. Protecting workers’ rights related to hours and wages, health and safety, and anti-discrimination rights and relevant data are also highlighted. 

In a press release, Labor stated that the principles were developed with assistance from unions and workers, in addition to academics, software developers and employers.

“The precise scope and nature of how AI will change the workplace remains uncertain,” the announcement reads. “But AI-augmented work also poses risks if workers no longer have autonomy and direction over their work or their job quality declines. The risks of AI for workers are greater if it undermines workers' rights, embeds bias and discrimination in decision-making processes, or makes consequential workplace decisions without transparency, human oversight and review.”

The White House and Labor also noted that these principles represent a start in responsibly managing AI solutions within a workforce but are not exhaustive, adding that additional commitments are “welcome” from stakeholders.

The Biden administration previously announced efforts to examine how employers could abuse AI in surveillance systems to violate employees’ rights, while other federal agencies are working to keep priming the federal workforce ahead of looming AI tool adoption.