What does it mean?
AI is increasingly being used to monitor workers in their workplaces and ensure they are following social distancing norms. Amazon and the start-up Landing AI have developed AI based technologies that monitor employees and ensure they are abiding to social distancing, by keeping the distance to other employees. Both companies use Machine Learning analysis of imagery from security cameras and other filming devices to identify cases on which employees are not keeping the required distance and alert the management.
Amazon is also working on an augmented reality system that would make employees see a green circle around other employees and themselves. This circle would get red when getting too close or entering someone else’s circled area.
Both companies argue that they have developed this technology to keep employees safe, but it is easy to imagine other situations on which this technology or variants of it could be used for more sinister purposes. It is another step towards increased surveillance and monitoring of the modern employee.
A world in which this technology were more widespread would probably be safer for all, but it would also feel less free to the people living in it. Apart from monitoring the distance between people, the algorithms could be targeted at detecting and analyzing other actions from workers, like who they talk to or the number of times they check their mobile phones or they visit the bathroom. This would get us closer to an Orwellian world in which every movement is detected and recorded by the Big Brother.
It probably would be a more productive and safer world, but it doesn’t feel good to live in it, does it?
There have been some complaints from some Amazon employees, in some cases for the use of this technology and in others because they are not doing enough to keep their employees safe. The company believes the use of AI will help them improve the safety of their employees and will continue pushing for it.
Landing AI believes this is a good step to keep employees and the community safer and they will continue developing this technology.
This adds to a growing trend that sees technology being used to monitor employees, to ensure their safety or improve productivity. However one of its main effects may be the dehumanization of the workforce and subsequent demotivation.