Microsoft partners with labor groups to quell concerns about AI taking jobs

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks during the OpenAI DevDay event in San Francisco on Nov. 6, 2023.

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

Microsoft on Monday announced a partnership with a major labor group, which represents 60 unions and 12.5 million workers, to create an open discussion on the future of artificial intelligence and quell fears that AI will replace jobs.

The partnership with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations comes as Microsoft and other AI providers face increased concern from labor groups and regulatory bodies over how AI will displace workers.

The alliance will include AI learning sessions for workers, “experiential workshops” focused on niche AI career opportunities between 2024 and 2026 as well as Microsoft-hosted labor summits to incorporate feedback from labor leaders and workers. 

It has three goals:

  • “Sharing in-depth information with labor leaders and workers on AI technology trends.”
  • “Incorporating worker perspectives and expertise in the development of AI technology.
  • “Helping shape public policy that supports the technology skills and needs of frontline workers.”

AI providers have increased their responses to public pressure and questioning on how their technologies may affect workers. That may be partly due to increasing fears that new technologies could be used to perform jobs currently performed by humans. A September Gallup poll showed that 1 in 5 college-educated workers worries tech could make their jobs obsolete, up seven percentage points from 2021.

Amazon said in October it would work with MIT “to better understand how employees and organizations are affected” by AI and robotics as Amazon employees expressed growing concern over pressure to perform and meet quotas.

In May, IBM announced plans to replace about 8,000 jobs with AI, but CEO Arvind Krishna told CNBC the company is prioritizing “massively upskilling all of our employees on AI,” and he foresees the technology mostly replacing back-office functions.

The tech giants’ moves come alongside the threat of increasing regulation. In October, President Joe Biden’s first-ever executive order on AI included a section on supporting workers amid AI advancement, namely by producing a report on the potential labor market implications of AI and studying the ways the federal government could support workers affected by a disruption to the labor market.

The executive order also outlined a plan to develop principles and best practices to “mitigate the harms and maximize the benefits of AI for workers,” with a focus on job displacement, labor standards and workplace equity.

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