- By Simon Jack
- Professional editor
1 hour ago
The UK is falling behind in protecting workers from artificial intelligence (AI), a union has warned.
The TUC said the UK does not intend, like EU AI law, to regulate its use in hiring, firing and setting working conditions. The union has asked a task force to draft legal protections.
The government has said it is committed to improving and defending workers’ rights.
It comes as the boss of Octopus Energy told the BBC his customers prefer AI-written emails to his staff.
Business leaders are hailing the potential of AI to drive innovation, productivity and improve customer service.
But unions say they are “deeply concerned” that UK employment law is not keeping pace with the AI revolution.
Mary Towers, head of employment rights policy at the TUC, said: “The kinds of decisions made by AI are important and life-changing – for example who should get a job, how work is done where it is done.”
A lack of AI-specific legislation meant the UK was left behind, she said. “For example, in the EU, they are passing an AI law. In this country, we have no equivalent.”
“Prefer AI to humans”
At Octopus Energy, AI is used to read, interpret and respond to customer service queries. General manager Greg Jackson said he was doing work that would otherwise require an additional 250 people.
He said customers seemed to prefer dealing with the AI over a human.
“An email written by our team members has a 65% satisfaction rating from customers,” he said. “An email written by an AI has an 80% or 85% satisfaction rate. And so what AI does is enable our team to better serve customers at a time when they need it most.”
He added that a human commanding an AI to write an email “saves a lot of tedious typing”.
“But we need to make sure all of this is done responsibly. And we need governments, economists and businesses to ensure that we do this by improving and creating jobs, not replacing them.”
“Better Health Outcomes”
AI could lead to huge scientific and medical breakthroughs according to the boss of pharmaceutical giant GSK. Emma Walmsley told the BBC the speed at which AI could process data and see patterns would revolutionize drug development.
“Biopharma is tough. It sometimes takes a decade, billions, and it has a 90% failure rate,” she said.
“But we’re in the data realm at the core of what we do. AI helps us see things faster in that data.”
She said this meant drug and vaccine discovery and development should become “more predictive and improve our likelihood of success”.
And she said it could mean better health outcomes for hundreds of millions of people.
“One in three of us will struggle with dementia, there are still many cancers that have no solutions, infectious diseases still cause one in six deaths globally,” she said.
There was “no doubt” that AI would “help us find better solutions to these challenges,” she said. “And it has to be something worth investing in with optimism while regulating responsibly.”
Ms Walmsley believes that improving productivity through the use of AI will create more jobs and “change some jobs quite significantly”.
“I think some may need less headcount, but there will be other spaces where we need a lot more,” she said.
It is sometimes assumed that the creative arts will be least affected by AI, as machine learning will struggle to replicate human creativity.
But that’s wrong according to actress and voice-over artist Laurence Bouvard who said AI is being used to sample, analyze and reproduce human voices without paying the original artist.
“When we do a job, to get paid, we have to give up all our rights,” she said. “And these AI companies just take it without asking who it belongs to.”
She said AI was a particular threat to the “army” of lesser-known artists who voice cartoons, video games, dictionaries and other audio work who could see their careers totally destroyed.
“A writer, an artist and a photographer, even if their work is stolen, they can create new work. If my voice is stolen, if my career is over,” she said.
AI has great power and is already changing industries and the workplace. Last week, the OECD said the world was “on the cusp of an AI revolution”.
The Paris-based body said: “Urgent action is needed to ensure AI is used responsibly and trustworthily in the workplace.”
With great power comes great responsibility – and it is not yet clear in the UK or internationally – who will, or should, shoulder that responsibility.
A government spokesperson said: “AI is set to fuel growth and create new, well-paying jobs across the UK, while enabling us to perform our existing jobs more efficiently and safely.
“That’s why we work with businesses and regulators to ensure that AI is used safely and responsibly in business environments.”