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Discrimination from Artificial Intelligence

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Amazon Flex drivers discover algorithms are monitoring their every move, oh-oh, time for a union perhaps? How AI achieves supremacy is an all too human story. Algorithms aren’t fair, they are just dirt cheap.

This is the first installment of AI Supremacy, a new Newsletter by the Last Futurist. You can sign up here.

In the evolution of surveillance capitalism the trend of AI not only monitoring your job performance but being able to fire you is clearly the kind of efficiency companies like Amazon are going for, but is it ethical?

Amazon is letting bots manage many HR decisions for its Flex delivery program and this trend will only continue. This is because in the automation movement, AI achieves supremacy through mass adoption.

Millions of independent contractors are at the whim of a system that Amazon knows is problematic, according to a new report by Bloomberg. While serious early glitches have been worked out, significant issues remain. How we implement algorithms that do harm, but are profitable, is a serious concern globally.

The profit motive if taken alone makes decisions for us with unforeseen consequent sat scale. It’s de-humanization at scale. You can see this with the echo chambers of social media and with the robots working at a Amazon warehouse, and it’s just beginning in the 2020s.

Algorithmic companies us AI at their core, like Google, ByteDance or indeed Amazon. They are “winning”. Indeed, Amazon became the world’s largest online retailer in part by outsourcing its sprawling operations to algorithms—sets of computer instructions designed to solve specific problems.

Amazon has for for years used algorithms to manage the millions of third-party merchants on its online marketplace, drawing complaints that sellers have been booted off after being falsely accused of selling counterfeit goods and jacking up prices.

Should a bot decide your professional fate as a low level worker at Amazon? It feels wrong. AI at work could be used to improve productivity and working lives. But it is already being used to make life-changing decisions about people at work – like who gets hired and fired. We already know AI will automate and replace humans in many settings, including some surprisingly white collar positions in the not so distant future.

Amazon probably calls this innovation. It does not care about the bad PR since workers don’t have a union and Amazon is also monitoring that closely. Flex hirings, performance reports, and firings are all handled by software, with minimal intervention by humans.

Drivers sign up and upload required documents via a smartphone app, through which they also sign up for shifts, coordinate deliveries, and report problems. It’s also how drivers monitor their ratings, which fall into four broad buckets—Fantastic, Great, Fair, or At Risk. Flex drivers are assessed on a range of variables, including on-time performance, details like whether the package is sufficiently hidden from the street, and a driver’s ability to fulfill customer requests.

Amazon wants to be supreme and its using AI for supremacy control. I get it, but the backlash is going to be considerable one day.

AI is not being regulated properly. Without fair rules, the use of AI at work could lead to widespread discrimination and unfair treatment – especially for those in insecure work and the gig economy. Blue collar and temp jobs are under threat, by AI in ways we are just beginning to understand.

Amazon is ceding its human-resources operation to machines as well, using software not only to manage workers in its warehouses but to oversee contract drivers, independent delivery companies and even the performance of its office workers. I guess firing people is not a job many humans want to do.

This is the first installment of AI Supremacy, a new Newsletter by the Last Futurist. You can sign up here.

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