legal theory, Regulating AI

Not everything is a hobgoblin


This story recounts the horrors of a man being fired by a bot. As if from the script of a rejected X-Files episode, the mad computer tears his career apart piece by piece. Except that’s not really what happened, if you care to read carefully into the story. Someone didn’t renew his contract and  therefore the HR systems did what they were supposed to. And whatever this system is doesn’t really sound like AI at all, it sounds like automation of HR processes, but that’s way less a good story than “the AI is relentless!!!”

Hobgoblin # 1.

Then we get in the opinon piece from The Conversation (which admittedly notes that in fact AI was not the root cause of this), that if only there was way better AI, like super ninja AI, that could have saved him. I guess. Or maybe just don’t lay off your managers without making sure their job duties are covered.

Hobgoblin #2.

But Hobgoblin #3 is the really fun one for me and it comes at the end of the piece from The Conversation:

“A sacked employee may feel that they have been wronged and may wish to challenge the decision through a tribunal. That situation raises the question of who was responsible for the original decision and who will defend it in law. Now is surely the moment to address the legal and ethical questions posed by the rise of AI, while it is still in its infancy.”

Ooh. That’s a big leap for me. How about just using the regular existing employment laws which (in Canada) would either give this poor fellow a remedy for wrongful termination, if the process was wrong, or no remedy, if that’s what happens if his contract was justly allowed to expire and not renewed. Whether or not a computer was involved, not involved, peripherally involved or at the root of making employment decisions really doesn’t need to be of deep concern. Employment law is sufficiently evolved to handle all of that and, if wrongs have occurred, deal with them. The involvement of a computer does not change the fundamental employer/employee relationship and what rights and obligations are imparted to each of the parties in that relationship. In this case the employer is responsible for the decision to renew or not renew the contract and it is the employer’s responsibility to defend that at law. The same would be true if the employer launched some AI bot to make that decision.

We need not hunt for hobgoblins, each more fearsome than the last.


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