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AI in the workplace: balancing rights, ethics and risks

It is vitally important to differentiate between rights and risks when crafting policies for using artificial intelligence in the workplace.

This was a key take-way when AI ethics and policy were scrutinised during an onstage conversation at the recent Mx3 AI event in London between Kevin Donnellan of @ExplainableLtd and Peter Houston, Grub Street Journal publisher, podcaster, and media commentator. Kevin, one of several AI experts sharing their views at the event, emphasised the need for rigorous AI policies in the newsroom.

He founded @ExplainableLtd, a newsletter about AI and creativity and an agency for creatives and brands who want to get to grips with AI.

Crafting policies for AI

While the onstage discussions were off the record, Kevin shared some insights in an interview afterwards, stressing how crucial it is to differentiate between rights and risks in AI policies for the workplace. 

Rather than focusing too much on risks and negative narratives, he said, the emphasis should be on a balanced approach that includes employee rights and ethical considerations with AI usage.

“If you’re looking at the risks of AI, you’re kind of stuck with thinking about what’s available with AI right now. But if a new tool comes out tomorrow, suddenly you’re behind, and you have to start over.

“If you’re talking about rights, you’re talking about the rights of your employees to a safe job, that they’re not going to be at risk if they’re using AI tools, if they’re saving themselves time.”

Open and honest conversations 

In an environment where the emphasis is on rights, argues Kevin, we create a commitment to employees using their time better, which is more beneficial to them and to the company. It is not an environment in which the employer will say that if AI saves you 20 hours a week, “we might have to get rid of you”. 

To achieve this, employers and employees need to honestly discuss robust policies that will withstand the rapidly evolving AI landscape. It might be necessary to review these policies regularly, with “constant tweaks and iterations”. The key is to foster open and honest conversations with employees, legal experts, and other stakeholders.

Kevin Donnellan and Peter Houston on stage at the Mx3 AI event in London.

With AI, is it ok to work less?

So what should employees do with their extra time if AI takes care of the time-consuming, mundane tasks? This is up to the employees, says Kevin – even if it is choosing to take a run or spend more time with their children. AI makes it possible to say goodbye to the days when a clock dictated the workday. “But again, that comes back to the honesty (between employer and employee)… People (should not) feel they need to be seen to be working hard rather than working smart. So I think we probably do need to shift away from that kind of industrial automation-style thinking about the job where you clock in and clock out.

“Unfortunately, even today, there is still an element of it. But if employees are able to show that they’re doing the job, and do it well, in 30 hours a week, what’s the harm in having that and still getting paid well for it?,” Kevin asked. But that requires a massive cultural shift, he warned, and he’s “not sure how ready we are.”

Pay creatives a fair share

Kevin is adamant that creatives should be paid their fair share when AI harvests their creations, designs and ideas. He predicts more court cases related to AI-generated content, particularly involving artists’ work, in 2024. The outcome of these cases will impact both artists and tech companies, questioning the boundaries of fair use. 

“A lot of the data sets that are used in AI to generate sales are artists’ work. And my hope is, we’re going to start to see a trickle of court cases, finding in favour of artists… Whether it’s artists, or designers, or illustrators, or musicians, or whoever it is – writers – it’s their work that will yield massive profits for somebody in AI… So yeah, we need to come up with a way to compensate them fairly.”

*Watch an edited extract from our interview with Kevin here:

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**Piet van Niekerk is a retired gas engineer. He also worked as a journalist and editor earlier in his career. Based in Bristol, he now writes about media and content innovation. Mail him at