As stated above, the white paper has succeeded in identifying a number of significant risks that may arise through the unmanaged development and deployment of AI and automation technology. The ACTU also believes that a responsible innovation agency or an agenda for responsible innovation, delivered through some existing body, represents a good solution to the issues raised. However, the paper has failed to recognise the significant disruption that these technologies may introduce into the lives of millions of Australian workers.
If managed properly, new technologies and new ways of organising work have great potential to reduce rather than exacerbate inequality. They can increase rather than degrade job quality and improve the material and working conditions of workers. But for this to occur, the impact on workers must be considered and addressed. That the current white paper does not do this, we believe, renders it and its conclusions fundamentally flawed.
The conclusion at which the white paper arrives is a valid one – Australia needs an organisation to oversee the impact that AI and automation will have on our society. But that organisation needs to be representative of workers and include the ACTU and relevant trade unions. It also needs to have the capability to undertake transition planning for affected workers and to quantify not merely the economic opportunity inherent in these changes but also their costs. It also needs to consider how measures to address these impacts can be funded by exploring concepts such as levies on those who are benefitting most from increased capital productivity. Only a body that is truly considering the full suite of impacts that the digital revolution may have can succeed – and it is the only body that should be considered.
As occurred with wharf restructuring and has been suggested as part of the response to the advent of driverless vehicles for road freight.