EESC calls for inclusive AI that puts workers first when smart technology is introduced into the workplace

The EU needs to ensure that the AI revolution does not endanger the quality of work in Europe. Interactions between workers and machines must be regulated so that humans never become underlings to machines, argues the European Economic and Social Committee in a report adopted at its September plenary.

The EESC believes that it is crucial to define the relationship between humans and machines, how autonomous the latter can be, and how they will complement the work of human beings. It urges the Commission to address these questions in the ethical guidelines it is preparing.

"It is not ethically acceptable for a human being to be controlled by AI or seen as the underling of a machine which issues orders on how, when and what kind of tasks should be performed. However, at times it would seem that we have already crossed that particular ethical Rubicon," said rapporteur Franca Salis Madinier.

The European Commission's AI strategy, with its strong focus on education, training and building up digital skills, is useful to curb social polarisation, but is only a partial response to the complex challenges involved. The EESC points to three instruments of social dialogue that can help ensure a socially acceptable transition:

  • inclusive AI, involving workers in the practical processes of introducing AI into the workplace, in order to facilitate acceptance;
  • anticipating change through social dialogue, looking into how production processes will change businesses and sectors;
  • socially responsible restructuring when redundancy plans become unavoidable, exploring all possible alternatives to layoffs.

The EESC also warns against the dangers of applying algorithms to the recruitment of workers and recommends that the Commission's ethical guidelines enshrine principles of transparency.

With accidents already being reported as a result of interactions between humans and machines in the workplace, the EESC calls for emerging health and safety risks to be clearly identified and provision to be made in EU law covering workers who are exposed to them.

Finally, the EESC would like to see the Commission launch a debate on how to finance social security systems in the future, since the current systems, based mainly on revenues from the taxation of work, will no longer be sustainable. (dm)