Do Robots Care About Your Civil Rights?

Do Robots Care About Your Civil Rights?

Tom Stilp, JD, MBA/MM, LLM, MSC

The “Singularity Event” is a hypothetical point in time when technological growth becomes uncontrollable and irreversible, resulting in unpredictable changes in human civilization.  The singularity event is expected to occur in the year 2045.

At the singularity event, machines will be smarter than humans.  Artificial neural networks, big data (measured in megabytes, gigabytes, terabytes, petabytes, exabytes and yottabytes, 280 or one septillion) prove both the volume and velocity of today’s computers.  (By comparison, when I started Law School, the state of the art was 10 megabyte-computer.)

With this computing power, Machine Learning (“ML”) and Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) has gotten smarter, faster and more sophisticated.  There is now “deep learning” where computers learn from training data allowing the algorithm to be unsupervised and “self-learn.”

Elon Musk’s latest project is a sleek humanoid robot designed to perform “dangerous, repetitive, boring tasks” and even shop for groceries.

But a recent article from the Commissioner of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) asks: “Do robots care about your civil rights?”  (Sonderling, K., Chi. Trib. p. 12, 9-30-2021).  The short answer is “no.”

Amazon got in trouble when people heard that employees were automatically terminated by a computer if they were underperforming.  (op. cit.)  Amazon denies any action was taken without human intervention.   AI makes recommendations about hiring, salary, promotions and retention is just part of life.

As we have advocated over many years, a business stays out of trouble by following a commonsense approach using simple employee agreements and a consistent process.  In court, clear and specific documentation about the employment process, performance and behavior can mean the difference between a quick employer victory or an expensive defeat.  We can help answer your questions about what to do if you are using new technology in your business.