GWL job loss due to AI should trigger ethical concerns

As technology workers, we should be concerned about the people impacted by the systems we are implementing. CBC news reported last week that 450 jobs would be lost at Great West Life due to technology.

They will ‘focus more on self-service options for its customers in order to adapt to changing technology.’…’tasked with delivering better customer outcomes through digital services, innovation and data analytics,’… ‘ this move “comes with difficult decisions” that will include reducing Great-West’s temporary workforce, voluntary retirements and eliminating positions.’

The GWL story does not specifically mention Artificial Intelligence (AI), but self-service options are often based on AI. Some predictions are that up to 47 per cent of U.S. jobs could be automated in the next couple decades by AI.

As with most of our personal decisions, our refusal to help with a certain technology just means that others will do it. At least until we all learn to work together to prevent it. The long-term impacts may mean that there is a whole new kind of job (reviewing AI decisions?) or life (four day work weeks?) that develops. So what do we do for now?

As a member of the team, we can work with the company to ensure the short-term impacts are handled as well as possible. Change management is not always a technical role, but we should be involved enough to identify impacts that people have to deal with and check to make sure they are addressed.

No doubt there will be a severance program. Plus they will do voluntary retirements and eliminate positions as they go empty for “regular” reasons. They also mention reducing the temporary workforce which is a little more dicey to me (if a person is desperate enough to take a temporary job they will not necessarily have any EI to fall back on). There are best practices that are quite detailed and best handled by Human Resources.

Our job is to ensure all the required jobs remain to make the project a success. Review that business case with a jaundiced eye and ask for job descriptions if you aren’t sure you will be left with the right people. Put on your customer hat and look for places that you can help customers in automated ways or with connections to “real people”. Ask yourself if the project will be moving the company – and our society – in the right direction. We get to new places one project at a time and like it or not we are often the ones making things happen. Ethics say we need to do our part to make the world a better place.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Donna Lindskog
Donna Lindskog
Donna Lindskog is an Information Systems Professional (retired) and has her Masters degree in Computer Science from the University of Regina. She has worked in the IT industry since 1978. Most of those years were at SaskTel where she progressed from Programmer, to Business Analyst, to Manager. At one point she had over 48 IT positions reporting to her and she has experience outside of IT managing Engineers. As a Relationship Manager, Donna worked with executive to define the IT Principles so departmental roles were defined. As the Resource Manager in the Corporate Program/Project Management Office, she introduced processes to get resources for corporate priorities. In 2003 she was given the YWCA Woman of Distinction Award in Technology.

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