Automated out of work: 'AI is already affecting the workforce dramatically right now'

But those whose jobs are threatened are not powerless, says Patricia Gestoso

John Leonard
clock • 6 min read
Patricia Gestoso
Image:

Patricia Gestoso

Patricia Gestoso, is an award-winning technologist and inclusion strategist with over 20 years of experience in digital transformation with a focus on client service, artificial intelligence, and inclusive and ethical design of technology and workplaces.

Patricia will be giving a talk about the impact of AI on the workplace and workers at the Women in Tech Festival in October. We do hope you'll be able to join us.

In the meantime, we caught up with Patricia and asked her to give us a taster.

How did you become interested in the topic of AI?

As a Director of Support for a scientific and engineering software corporation, I see how AI helps our customers everyday to accelerate drug discovery, clinical trials and research on new materials.

On the flip side, as an inclusion strategist and collaborator on initiatives such as the Race and AI toolkit and Better Images of AI, I'm also aware about the different ways in which AI helps encode and automate biases.

That's the reason why in the last three years I've been actively fostering discussion about the benefits and challenges that AI brings to inclusion, equity, and sustainability on social media as well as through keynotes and articles.

 Your talk is titled: "Automated out of work: AI's impact on the female workforce". Are women likely to be disproportionately affected in the next wave of automation?

It's important to take a step back and see where those predictions of women more likely to be negatively affected in the next wave of automation. They come from several assumptions.

First, that there are certain sectors that will be more impacted than others. Then, that the impact on those sectors will be negative on the less skilled workers, next that those workers are women, and finally, that people prefer to interact with machines than with humans.

On the flip side, we have other studies that tell us that the most impacted will be white collar workers like software engineers - who are overwhelming men - or lawyers - where which gender is overrepresented depends on the practice area.  

In case this was not contradictory enough, we're also told that the roles that AI won't displace will be those that are related to soft skills and studies show that women are great at those - collaboration, listening, and championing a common plan.

The reality is that when we see how's already impacted by automation, it's easy to argue that it's mostly men. Workers at Amazon's warehouses, Uber drivers or riders for Deliveroo. Their work is scheduled and constantly monitored by AI. Moreover, when we look at who's raising the alarm about generative AI stealing their jobs right now, we see book authors, screenwriters, and actors. Again, professions that are far from failing on the "female job" category.

For me, talking about the next wave of automation disproportionately affecting women is to deflect from the reality that AI is already affecting the workforce dramatically right now. And it's not fortuitous. It's the old strategy of "divide and conquer". By saying "it'll be worse in the future and women's job will the most affected," it aims to keep men quiet with the false premise that they should conform because their jobs are "safe". 

Are there ways that women and other underrepresented groups can harness the technology to their advantage to mitigate some of these scenarios? If so what do they need to do and where should they start? 

I'll go into more detail in my talk, but there are three obvious areas where women and underrepresented groups can harness technology to their advantage.

First, increasing their negotiation power. If we look at the industrial revolution, the disruption was massive. Loss of jobs, exhausting work schedules, child labour. What's changed the game? Unions. This is no different now with Amazon workers and screenwriters. Social platforms and digital tools such as apps are powerful means to organise resistance.

Next, learning about AI. Ignoring new technology is not the answer because AI is not going away any time soon. However, when I said learning, I'm not necessarily suggesting to become an AI software developer. I'm talking about following the major trends in AI, understanding how they impact your industry - what are the major risks and possible rewards - and getting involved in projects aimed to explore the capabilities that AI can bring to your business.

Finally, exploring how AI can augment you as a professional. We see a lot in the media about the need to learn about how to work "for" or "with" AI. For me, the key is to learn how you can use AI tools to strengthen your capabilities. 

Tech has a tendency to concentrate power and wealth in the hands of the already rich and powerful. Is AI likely to continue or even exacerbate this tendency?

AI is already benefiting those that have privileges and disadvantaging those that face more challenges. The Race and AI toolkit mentioned previously showcases many examples where non-White people are consistently sidelined by AI in areas such as healthcare, education, and justice. 

The reason? Garbage in, garbage out. We're feeding AI data that is generated by narrow sectors of the population and that doesn't reflect our diversity or values as a society.

 Unfortunately, attempts to limit the reach of AI tools are seen as attempts to stop progress. No different than what happened to Luddites 200 years ago. The reality is that tech is playing to our FOMO [fear of missing out] anxiety - telling us we either let AI run wild or we'll miss out on new drugs and cure cancer. To me, that's akin to say, you either let fire run wild or you won't have fire at all. We've survived because we decided that we're happy to have fire to cook and heat ourselves but that it goes to our curtains we'll put it out. AI shouldn't be treated differently.

 Who do you hope to reach with your keynote at the Women in Tech Festival?

I hope my talk reassures those who are frightened that AI will take their jobs that they are not powerless. I also aim to provide actionable strategies to incorporate AI into their professional careers to those that are wondering how to jump on the AI bandwagon. Finally, I hope to reach to those that are curious about explore alternative futures to dystopia and utopia, where rather than humans in the loop, humans are in the driving seat and machines are in the loop.

Join us at this years' Women in Tech Festival on Tuesday 31st October in London; the meeting place for women working in tech, those who aspire to and for any tech organisation wanting to enhance diversity, make unrivalled connections, and empower and cultivate women leaders.

Individual delegates will have opportunities to connect with mentors and access practical advice on how to progress their careers.

Click to here to find out more and register now.

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