Artificial Intelligence: Implications for the Future of WorkPosted on by
What does Artificial Intelligence (AI) have to do with workplace safety and health? NIOSH has been at the forefront of workplace safety and robotics, creating the Center for Occupational Robotics Research (CORR) and posting blogs such as A Robot May Not Injure a Worker: Working safely with robots. However, much remains unknown regarding the related field of AI, specifically the application of AI at work. AI is a broad transdisciplinary field with roots in logic, statistics, cognitive psychology, decision theory, neuroscience, linguistics, cybernetics, and computer engineering. Machine learning (ML), a sub-discipline of AI, has led to the application of internet searches, ecommerce sites, goods and services recommender systems, image and speech recognition, sensor technologies, robotic devices, and cognitive decision support systems (see the blog AI and Workers’ Comp).
It is predicted that the impact of AI will be as globally transformative on economic and social structures as steam engines, railroads, electricity, electronics, and the Internet.   AI applications in the workplace of the future raise important issues for occupational safety and health. “Artificial Intelligence: Implications for the Future of Work” was recently published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine. The commentary reviews the origins of AI, the use of machine learning methods, and emerging AI applications such as sensor technologies, robotic devices, or decision support systems.
Although still in their infancy, as AI-enabled applications are introduced in the workplace, occupational safety and health professionals need to develop a better understanding about AI methods and their potential effects on work and workers. Maximizing the potential occupational safety and health benefits of AI applications, while minimizing any potential challenges, is critical. The following summarizes AI workplace applications outlined in the commentary.
Advanced or “smart” sensors exhibit greater functionality than traditional sensors. Smart sensors can be surgically placed in the body (implanatables); worn on the body or embedded safety clothing (wearables); or attached to a workplace object to monitor different parameters (placeables).    Any device or object with embedded sensors can be connected to the Internet, and to other similar devices, forming an Internet of Things (IoT). A cloud-based IoT platform can collect, integrate, and analyze data from a distributed industrial network of IoT sensors to improve assessment of different workplace safety and health hazards.
AI-enabled sensors can provide both promising benefits for the practice of occupational safety and health and potential challenges. One benefit could be use of continuous data from workplace sensors for early intervention to prevent toxic exposures. Those data would allow practitioners to transition from traditional reliance on slower episodic area or breathing zone sampling. Large data sets produced by a 24/7 sensor network, analyzed by ML-enabled algorithms, have the potential to improve surveillance of safety and health effects from AI, decrease uncertainty in risk assessment and management practices, and stimulate new avenues of occupational safety and health research. Also, AI-enabled virtual reality training can be used to create dynamic, high-fidelity immersive environments to simulate hazardous situations and enhance a worker’s hazard recognition capabilities.
Among the challenges is the privacy dilemma associated with the use of AI-enabled sensor technology to monitor and track all aspects of worker performance. More businesses are managing their workforces using sensor technology, cloud-based human resource systems, and ML-enabled data analytics in an approach called “people analytics.” Proposed best practices for employer-sponsored worker monitoring programs include using only validated sensor technologies; ensuring voluntary worker participation; ceasing data collection outside the workplace; disclosing all data uses; and ensuring secure data storage.
Recently, there has been a shift from workplace robotic devices that do routine functions—automated robots—to the more advanced robots that are able to interact with people and their environment—autonomous robots. These newer AI-enabled robotic devices are called collaborative robots or “cobots”. The presence of a cobot and a human worker in the same work area raises a number of safety issues, primarily collision control. In 2016, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) provided safety requirements to promote safe human-cobot collaboration. For industrial cobots equipped with AI-enabled sensors, the ISO recommended: (1) safety-related monitored stopping controls; (2) human hand guiding of the cobot; (3) speed and separation monitoring controls; and (4) power and force limitations.
AI methods are also enabling one robotic device to learn from the experience other robotic devices, since the sensors in robotic devices can be connected to the cloud. The learning experience of one AI-enabled robotic device can be uploaded to all other connected robots by means of “cloud robotics.”
Decision Support Systems:
Firms that collect and store large amounts of data, who have robust computational capabilities, and in‐house computer engineering expertise, are introducing AI to support financial, operational, and organizational risk decision‐making. AI applications can be used to mine knowledge from data for decision-making applications by using a decision support system (DSS)—a multi-purpose informational AI-enabled tool—that aids humans in finding information or making decisions. For example, AI-enabled DSSs have shown promise in medicine and can be used to detect lung cancer in x-ray screening.
DSSs may have a role in improving occupational risk assessment and risk management strategies. Can AI-enabled DSSs prevent catastrophic events such as chemical plant explosions by recognizing root causes of such events earlier? Can AI-enabled DSSs aid in determining the optimal placement of fire fighters during disasters like wildland fires to prevent them from being overtaken by the fire? Can AI-enabled DSSs aid in making risk control decisions under conditions of uncertainty? Can AI-enabled systems take control from a human to prevent a human action that will lead to severe injury or a fatality?
These and other questions about AI and the future of work deserve the attention of the occupational safety and health community. Concerns about ML-enabled DDSs, including algorithm transparency and algorithm bias, have arisen as they are introduced across industry sectors. The lack of methodological transparency inherent in ML methods (“black box”) can impair user trust in the outputs produced by a DSS.
Another implication of AI on work is automation. Several estimates have been published about the extent to which job tasks could be automated across industry sectors. Studies by Oxford University and by the McKinsey Global Institute indicate that about half of all job tasks in the U.S. economy could be automated with current AI-enabled technologies. However, not all studies agree that AI will be that much of a job eliminator. Some studies point to several economic, legal, or societal factors that could restrain a firm from adopting job-displacing AI technologies. Fears of technological disruption by AI may be exaggerated, as technology adoption is often slow which provides time for new task and job creation to offset job loss from automation. 
Human-machine interactions must also be addressed when considering AI in the workplace. Negative consequences can occur when system controls are not fully understandable to humans, or fully responsive in practice as they were in design. Managing risk as AI-enabled technologies are introduced to the workplace should start with a systems safety approach that focuses on system operation and controls to ensure the reliability and safety of AI technologies enabling autonomous systems. The introduction of AI-enabled technologies in self-driving vehicles, at a nuclear power plant, or in the avionics systems of a jet airliner,  raises issues of how to manage the uncertainties associated with human-machine interactions with AI-enabled systems.
Occupational safety and health practitioners, researchers, employers and workers must consider the ramifications of AI-enabled applications in the workplace. Before AI-enabled devices or systems are introduced into a workplace, a thorough preplacement safety and health review of their benefits and risks should be performed. We welcome your thoughts in the comment section below as we proactively address the potential advantages and challenges of this technology.
John Howard, MD, is the Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
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57 comments on “Artificial Intelligence: Implications for the Future of Work”
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great thank you for the post
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Very informative article. Would like to bring more interesting Artificial intelligence has learned to predict tactile sensations in the eye
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good article, Artificial intelligence is emerging very fast in the world. they are reducing human stress and extra efforts. I always took artificial intelligence in a negative manner but after using my first AI-based robotic Vacuum cleaner my view towards artificial intelligence has changed because it helps me allot in my work in a very smart manner.
Great article, future is ai..
Thanks for your comment and view.
It is a very good article! AI robots are coming, like it or not.. Where can this type of technology be used on a commercial basis? What data is needed for it to become a useful tool for direct clients or even regulators along with helping with claims and legal matters? What about cyber safety? There is more questions and this apply to the insurance industry eg. Cyber Liability Insurance and what if something happen will Professional Indemnity Insurance protect us if an error or omission was made by AI technology ?
Thank you for your comments and questions regarding AI and the insurance industry. AI helps the insurance industry put their massive amounts of data to optimal use. An interesting paper I might recommend to you is “Insurance 2030—The impact of AI on the future of insurance” which can be found online at https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/financial-services/our-insights/insurance-2030-the-impact-of-ai-on-the-future-of-insurance
Thanks for sharing your article post.
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This is exciting John, It’s great to see how much AI technological advancements are to bring changes in a different industry. I would also recommend you to check out the article “The Social Impacts of AI and How to Mitigate its Harms”, it lays out a pretty critical point too.
Its a good article for me but I include one more secure device such as Biometric Authentication
Artificial intelligence subdiscipline, include Internet searches, e-commerce sites, products and ventures recommender systems, voice and facial recognition, sensor innovations, automated gadgets, and subjective choice emotionally supportive networks.AI for the ultimate fate of work will help alleviate the negative impacts of AI on specialist security, wellbeing, and prosperity.
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Please more of these great articles. I like the way you convey ideas in a simple way that’s easy to understand. Thanks!
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great article bro..
ilike AI article
artificial intelligence is growing rapidly..wow..
AI is the future and emerging technology. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning both are growing in almost every industry and provide solutions in an effective manner. AI is emerging in web apps
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I really enjoy simply reading all of your weblogs. Simply wanted to inform you that you have people like me who appreciate your work. Definitely a great post. Hats off to you! The information that you have provided is very helpful.
Thank you for being a regular reader of the NIOSH Science Blog—we appreciate your interest!
Hey really great post on the Artificial Intelligence, I enjoyed reading it a lot. We all know its important in today’s and future world.
Thanks for reading the blog and for your comments.
With the rise of Artificial Intelligence, there is a lot of uncertainty revolving around the future of human employment. Regardless, this doubt about ‘robots taking our jobs’ isn’t completely baseless. There is little done to enhance awareness regarding AI technology and its implications.
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Very informative blog, I am very much impressed about the Decision Support Systems topic, keep updating thank you.
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Thank you for sharing this interesting opinion. The impact of AI software development is increasing rapidly. AI has the potential to improve medical diagnoses, weather prediction, supply-chain management, transportation, and even personal choices.
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Yes, I agree with you Artificial Intelligence going to play a major role in the future.
By using AI (Artificial Intelligence ) presently we are using Predicting calamities, Destruction.
We are also implementing AI in IT, Medicine, Geological, Marine departments so far.
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Artificial intelligence is a wing of computer science involved in building smart machines that are able to accomplish tasks that typically need human intelligence. AI is an interdisciplinary science with multiple approaches, but advancements in machine learning and deep learning are creating a model change in practically every area of the tech industry. I really liked your idea, found it very unique and I’m defiantly going to apply
this is on my blog.
Thank you for your comment and for reading the NIOSH Science blog.
That is an interesting take. I definitely enjoyed reading your article. I stumbled across this interview with Paul Colmer on the emergence of automation, AI, and its impact on corporate culture – [www.engati.com/blog/paul-colmer-ai-culture]
It really helped put things in perspective for me, hope it does the same for you as well.
This post is very simple to read and appreciate without leaving any details out. Great work!
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I am sure that this is going to help a lot of individuals. Keep up the good work. It is highly convincing and I enjoyed going through the entire blog.
Thanks for sharing this information.
I have accepted that AI is the future, but it is now up to us to see how we react. Thanks for providing a piece that sheds light how things will be changing.
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Totally agree with you on this one! AI will take us to a much higher level of efficiency in the upcoming future. Implementing AI will be a life-changer for businesses operations and especially for the RH industry.
the use of artificial intelligence in health care is really a game-changer.
I really liked your article and i hope it might have helped the user
AI platform helps in insurance, banking, health sectors, and many more sectors. It’s an informative article. Thanks for sharing.
Great information. It’s helpful for me. Keep sharing some more blogs again soon. I bookmark your website for further blogs.
Great information. It’s helpful for me. Keep sharing some more blogs again soon. I bookmark your website
AI and machine learning are critical tools for shaping the future. AI will also be a crucial asset for security in the world of Healthcare, given that it can process large amounts of data to predict health outcomes.
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Very informative article, I wanted to know which industries would benefit the most from the advancement of robotics?
Thanks for your comment and question. Right now, robotic devices are being tried out across multiple sectors. Which sectors would benefit the most from the use of such devices depends on how one defines “benefit.” For NIOSH, we are interested in determining if the use of robotic devices can contribute to reductions in worker injuries and illnesses. Still an open question.
Thank you for helping people get the information they need. Great stuff as usual. Keep up the great work.
Thank you for sharing such a wonderful blog. Each and every detail is explained very well.
Good article Artificial Intelligence is the Next big thing and All India Council For Robotics & Automation is the platform for Innovators
Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Robotics are the future.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the most significant technological advancements of the 21st century, and its implications for the future of work are vast and profound. On the one hand, AI has the potential to automate many routine and repetitive tasks, freeing up human workers to focus on more creative and intellectually stimulating work. On the other hand, AI could also lead to the displacement of human workers, as machines become increasingly capable of performing tasks traditionally done by people.
Thank you very much for your comment—you have concisely summarized the benefit and challenges of our new world of work with AI.
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