Is artificial intelligence (AI) making the working world better or worse? That was the question explored last week at an interactive symposium hosted by The A.I. Age, a Seattle Times reporting project. About 100 attendees participated.

AI is seen in workplaces, such as in writing technology used to craft job postings, autonomous floor scrubbers in retail stores and food and service robots in hotels. Yet the impacts of AI on the future of work remains unknown.

The A.I. Age | This 12-month series of stories explores the social and economic questions arising from the fast-spreading uses of artificial intelligence. The series is funded with the help of the Harvard-MIT Ethics and Governance of AI Initiative. Seattle Times editors and reporters operate independently of our funders and maintain editorial control over the coverage.

Experts, including University of Washington public-policy lecturer Akhtar Badshah, co-executive director of the nonprofit United for Respect Andrea Dehlendorf and UW technology law professor Ryan Calo shared their views on the topic during a panel discussion Wednesday evening in downtown Seattle.

Calo said AI will disrupt the workforce and expressed dismay that computers will fully replicate human capabilities in the future. “I think that the impact of even … [replicating] some aspects of what we do will be deeply, deeply felt,” not only in replacing people but also in managing them.

Badshah argued AI technology has exacerbated the gap between haves and have nots and requires governmental regulation and policies to ensure AI benefits everyone.

More on The A.I. Age


Dehlendorf recommended technology companies help workers create AI-powered solutions to common workplace issues. For example, her organization created a digital platform powered by a machine-learning system that informs low-wage retail workers on company policies and their rights.


The diverse audience of tech employees, managers, politicians and retail workers discussed this prompt: “In the utopian view of AI deployment, humans will work less and have a greater life of leisure. What do you think a society with less work will look like, and what shifts would need to be made to allow for a healthy and thriving community?”

Attendees stayed long after the event’s conclusion to share their perspectives on the future of work and draw pictures that illustrated their visions. One group wrote on a roll of paper, “rising tides of change,” next to an image of blue waves.

Watch this video recap of the event.


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