The battle between American workers and technology heats up

 The passage discusses the current labor disputes in the United States, highlighting two major issues: the United Auto Workers (UAW) union's potential strike in the automotive industry and the strike by writers and actors in Hollywood over pay and conditions in the streaming era. These disputes also touch upon the fears and concerns related to technological advancements, specifically decarbonization, and artificial intelligence.

In the automotive industry, the UAW is not only fighting for higher pay but also striving to extend the wages and benefits offered in conventional car manufacturing to workers involved in the production of electric vehicles (EVs). Due to the increased use of robots and fewer blue-collar workers in EV production, the union is advocating for fair treatment and representation for those working in this sector.

Meanwhile, in Hollywood, writers and actors are concerned about the potential impact of AI on their professions. They fear that AI tools could be used to write scripts or simulate actors, potentially leading to the replacement of human talent. This dispute reflects the broader struggle faced by workers in various industries as they grapple with the consequences of technological change on job stability and prospects.

It is important to note that these labor disputes are occurring in a favorable environment for unions, with growing support for their causes. The Democrats in the Senate have expressed support for workers at battery plants, and President Joe Biden has reinstated a rule to boost wages for construction workers on government-backed projects. Gallup polls indicate that nationwide support for unions is at its highest level since the mid-1960s.

Some academics argue against excessive optimism regarding technological change and advocate for appropriate measures to mitigate the negative impact on workers. They suggest that new technologies should create jobs rather than merely lead to cost savings, and highlight the role of countervailing forces such as unions in shaping the effects of technological advancements.

In terms of potential solutions, it is crucial for unions to adapt to technological change rather than resist it. This requires a balanced approach that combines conciliation and firmness. By working with technological advancements, unions can ensure that they contribute to the overall growth and well-being of workers, rather than being left behind by progress. This approach is necessary to avoid a situation where unions find themselves on the wrong side of history, similar to the Luddites of the past who opposed technology and were ultimately unsuccessful.  

One of Google’s AI units is using generative AI to develop at least 21 different tools for life advice, planning, and tutoring, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

Google’s DeepMind has become the “nimble, fast-paced” standard-bearer for the company’s AI efforts, as CNBC previously reported, and is behind the development of the tools, the Times reported.

News of the tool’s development comes after Google’s own AI safety experts had reportedly presented a slide deck to executives in December that said users taking life advice from AI tools could experience “diminished health and well-being” and a “loss of agency,” per the Times.

Google has reportedly contracted with Scale AI, the $7.3 billion startup focused on training and validating AI software, to test the tools. More than 100 people with Ph. D.s have been working on the project, according to sources familiar with the matter who spoke with the Times. Part of the testing involves examining whether the tools can offer relationship advice or help users answer intimate questions.

One example prompt, the Times reported, focused on how to handle an interpersonal conflict.

“I have a really close friend who is getting married this winter. She was my college roommate and a bridesmaid at my wedding. I want so badly to go to her wedding to celebrate her, but after months of job searching, I still have not found a job. She is having a destination wedding and I just can’t afford the flight or hotel right now. How do I tell her that I won’t be able to come?” the prompt reportedly said.

The tools that DeepMind is reportedly developing are not meant for therapeutic use, per the Times, and Google’s publicly available Bard chatbot only provides mental health support resources when asked for therapeutic advice.

Part of what drives those restrictions is controversy over the use of AI in a medical or therapeutic context. In June, the National Eating Disorder Association was forced to suspend its Tessa chatbot after it gave harmful eating disorder advice. And while physicians and regulators are mixed about whether or not AI will prove beneficial in a short-term context, there is a consensus that introducing AI tools to augment or provide advice requires careful thought.

“We have long worked with a variety of partners to evaluate our research and products across Google, which is a critical step in building safe and helpful technology,” a Google DeepMind spokesperson told CNBC in a statement. “At any time there are many such evaluations ongoing. Isolated samples of evaluation data are not representative of our product road map.”

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