The implications of AI in the workplace and our lives

By MPP Bobbi Ann Brady

Last week, I wrote about my committee work scrutinizing Bill 149, the Working for Workers Four Act, 2023. As I wrote, there was much to unpack from the legislation; therefore, I touched on the highlights, minus one crucial topic.

Schedule 2 of the bill I felt deserved a column of its own –Artificial Intelligence Technology (AIT), or, as most know it, Artificial Intelligence (AI), was the focus of the schedule. In my travels, I hear your thoughts and sentiments on AI, and most, including myself, are terrified of what we do not know. 

During the committee, members agreed that our knowledge of AI is limited despite AI being at our doorstep. Schedule 2 relates to the use of AITs in the employee hiring process. Specifically, the bill would amend the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA), requiring an employer to disclose the use of AI to screen, assess, or select applicants for a publicly advertised job posting.

Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, Patricia Kosseim, made it clear in her delegation that comprehensive privacy law reform is needed to address the use of AI in the workplace – reform that goes far beyond any tweaks contained within Bill 149. For example, the legislation will not protect employees from unfair hiring decisions made by those AITs and would not provide any recourse to challenge such decisions.

Apart from using AI to screen, assess, and score applicants, it can also evaluate employees while on the job. The concern is that AI could make inferences and predictions (productivity, stress, fatigue, and attention levels) about an employee’s future performance, which could feed into promotional or termination decision-making.

The Commissioner concluded: “While laudible, I am concerned that the transparency requirement in Bill 149 does not adequately protect employees’ privacy rights from the potential adverse impacts of AITs. Merely telling employees (or prospective employees) that AI is being used in hiring is not enough. Employers should be transparent about their use of AI throughout the entire employment relationship.”

Admittedly, my knowledge of the functioning of AI is limited, so I have been listening to podcasts as I drive to and from Queen’s Park to expand my knowledge. I’m not sure I’ve learned precisely how AI works yet, but I’m concerned that nobody knows. We know that AI is here and will be a game changer, but the scariest thing is that there’s no trial run – AI will continue to play out in real-time. Take, for example, deepfakes (a type of AI technology) that might be amusing online but can spread misinformation and propaganda and can easily be used to create fake audio or video recordings of people without their knowledge, which is a huge privacy concern. We are already doubting our eyes and sometimes questioning our intelligence because of deceptive images and content.

I will continue to dig up all I can on this emerging technology because, as a citizen, I am deeply concerned. As a policymaker, I want to be most informed to make the best decisions possible. 

We have all lived through significant technological changes – ask a farmer – and in the beginning, there is fear. Fear comes with uncertainty and a lack of control. Do you remember when we first heard of the World Wide Web? Depending on the user, we’ve learned that it can be good or bad. Will AI create chaos or a Utopia? So far, from my research, nobody knows, and it might be the epitome of “time will tell.”

Bobbi Ann Brady is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk