Workers express fears over emotion-tracking AI

Workers have expressed concerns for their well-being and privacy regarding the use of emotion AI in the workplace.

An academic study, reported on by The Conversation, has assessed how effective employers are utilizing artificial intelligence (AI), what the intentions are, and crucially how it is perceived by those who will be the subjects of the technology.

Emotion AI is the sub-genre of artificial intelligence which helps machines gain an understanding of human emotion. This could be the interpretation of facial expressions, tone of voice, and eye movements at a particular time.

The report indicates emotional AI is already in use across various industries such as call centers, finance, banking and nursing. It is suggested over 50% of large employers in the United States are analyzing and monitoring their employees in this way, but what about the human impact?

Worker reaction to the use of emotion AI?

Of the 289 people questioned, concerns over well-being and privacy came to the fore, as well as the potential for a negative effect on their performance and unease about mental health stigma.

One worker with various health conditions stated, “The awareness that I am being analyzed would ironically have a negative effect on my mental health.”

Despite emotion AI’s supposed aim to improve staff well-being in the workplace, its use can lead to the opposite outcome, well-being diminished due to a loss of privacy and confidence.

Another worker with a diagnosed mental health condition commented on the prospect of emotional surveillance threatening their job, “They could decide that I am no longer a good fit at work and fire me. Decide I’m not capable enough and not give a raise, or think I’m not working enough.”

Proponents of this technology, including employers, have lauded the positives of emotion AI in aspects such as supporting employee well-being, optimizing workplace safety, boosting productivity and support for decision-making, such as promotions, firing workers and delegating.

The cost of this action in human terms must be carefully considered, as to how it affects people’s feelings, and morale in the workplace and relationships, then there is the minefield of privacy and bias to navigate.

Image credit: Tara Winstead/Pexels.

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Graeme Hanna