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UK companies use AI to monitor staff activity

UK businesses are increasingly using artificial intelligence (AI) to monitor workers’ activity on a daily basis, The Guardian reported on Sunday.

The work of 130,000 people, including emails sent and received and who accesses and edits files and who meets whom and when, is being checked regularly by the Isaak system.

Designed by London-based company Status Today, the Isaak system is part of a trend of corporations using algorithms to manage employees. Trade unions are worried this could create distrust within companies.

“This kind of high-tech snooping creates fear and distrust.” TUC’s general secretary, Frances O’Grady, told The Guardian. She added that it undermines morale and “could do businesses more harm than good”. 

“If performance targets are being fine-tuned by AI and your progress towards them being measured by AI, that will only multiply the pressure,” added Ursula Huws, a professor of labour and globalisation at the University of Hertfordshire.

“People are deemed not to be working if they take their hands off the keyboard for five minutes. But they could be thinking, and that doesn’t get measured. What is this doing for innovation, which needs creative workers?”

The Isaak system can show managers if people are working collaboratively and whether they are “influencers” or “change-makers”. It can also compare activity data with qualitative assessments of workers from personnel files or sales performance figures.

Because of these features, it has been argued the AI program could help companies predict and reduce the effects of bias.

“If one salesperson is performing well and you can see overwork and another isn’t performing well and isn’t overworked, that could be enough to start a conversation,” said Ankur Modi, the chief executive of Status Today.

However, he also agreed it was a legitimate concern that companies could use it only to boost productivity, without focusing on wellbeing.

“There’s always a risk that it might be misused”, he added.

Image via pxhere.

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