How to reduce citizen harm from automated decision systems

While more at a local level, some good basic guidelines:

For agencies that use automated systems to inform decisions about schools, social services and medical treatment, it’s imperative that they’re using technology that protects data.

new report finds that there’s little transparency about the automated decision-making (ADM) systems that state and local agencies use for many tasks, leading to unintended, detrimental consequences for the people they’re meant to help. But agencies can take steps to ensure that their organization buys responsible products.

The findings are shared in “Screened and Scored in the District of Columbia,” a new report from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). Researchers spent 14 months investigating 29 ADM systems at about 20 Washington, D.C., government agencies. They chose that location because it’s where EPIC is located, said Thomas McBrien, law fellow at EPIC and one of four report authors.

The agencies use such systems to inform decisions about many activities, including assigning children to schools, understanding drivers’ travel patterns and informing medical decisions about patients, so it’s imperative that they’re using technology that protects data.

“Overburdened agencies turn to tech in the hope that it can make difficult political and administrative decisions for them,” according to the report. But “agencies and tech companies block audits of their ADM tools because companies claim that allowing the public to scrutinize the tools would hurt their competitive position or lead to harmful consequences. As a result, few people know how, when, or even whether they have been subjected to automated decision-making.”

Agencies can take four steps to mitigate the problem, McBrien said. First, agencies can require data minimization through contract language. “That’s basically the principle that when a company is rendering a service for an agency using its software, the agency should really ensure that the company isn’t taking more data than it needs to render that service,” he said.

That connects to his second recommendation, which is monitoring the downstream use of this data. Some ADM system vendors might take the data, run their services with it and that’s it, but others may share the data with their parent company or a subsidiary—or sell it to third parties.

“That’s where we see a lot of leakage of people’s personal data that can be really harmful, and definitely not what people are expecting their government to do for them,” McBrien said.

A third step is to audit for accuracy and bias. Sometimes, a tool used on one population or in one area can be very accurate, but applied to a different context, that accuracy may drop off and biased results could emerge. The only way to know whether that’s happening is by auditing and validating the system using the group of people you’re serving.

“The gold standard here would be to have an external auditor do this before you implement the system,” he said. But it’s a good idea to also do audits periodically to ensure that the algorithms the system uses are still accurate “because as the real world changes, the model of the real world it uses to make predictions should also be changing.”

Fourth, agencies should inform the public about their use of these systems, McBrien said, adding that it’s a good way to build trust. Meaningful public participation is the No. 1 recommendation to come out of a report by the Pittsburgh Task Force on Public Algorithms.

“Agencies should publish baseline information about the proposed system: what the system is, its purposes, the data on which it relies, its intended outcomes, and how it supplants or replaces existing processes, as well as likely or potential social, racial, and economic harms and privacy effects to be mitigated,” according to the report’s second recommendation.

It’s also important to share the outcome of any decision being made based on ADM systems, McBrien added. “People who are directly impacted by these systems are often the first ones to realize when there’s a problem,” he said. “I think it’s really important that when that outcome has been driven or informed by an algorithmic system, that that’s communicated to the person so they have the full picture of what happened.”

He added that privacy laws such as the California Privacy Rights Act of 2020 support transparency, as does an effort in that state to redefine state technology procurement as well as a bill in Washington state that would establish “guidelines for government procurement and use of automated decision systems in order to protect consumers, improve transparency, and create more market predictability.”

Although he couldn’t say how prevalent such systems are among state and local agencies—in fact, EPIC’s report states that researchers couldn’t access all of the systems in D.C. because many agencies were unwilling to share information because of companies’ claims of trade secrets or other commercial protections—there are examples of their use elsewhere.

For instance, in 2019, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an executive order establishing an algorithms management and policy officer to be a central resource on algorithm policy and to develop guidelines and best practices on the city’s use of them. That move follows a 2017 law that made the city the first in the country to create a task force to study agencies’ use of algorithms. But that group’s work led to a shadow report highlighting the task force’s shortcomings.

“We definitely urge people to think of other solutions to these problems,” McBrien said. “Sometimes agencies implement that system and are locked into them for a long time and spend enormous amounts of money trying to fix them, manage the problem, ameliorate the harms of the system that could have been used to hire more caseworkers.”

Source: How to reduce citizen harm from automated decision systems

Will your immigration application be fast-tracked? It depends whether it hits Canada’s new ‘Green Bin’

Normal to triage applications as part of program management, reducing processing times and improving efficiency. As always, care needs to be taken with respect to criteria and systems but continuing with first-come-first-served basis also has fairness issues as well as greater costs:

More and more would-be immigrants to Canada may soon find themselves in the fast lane — or seeing others cruise past them — as a result of the government’s expanding use of an automated triage system for applications.

The system is going to become increasingly prevalent as Canada transitions, starting this Friday, to “100 per cent” digital applications for most permanent residence programs — from family reunification to skilled immigration — meaning people can only apply online, unless they have accessibility issues.

Canadian officials have generally processed applications within a given immigration program on a first-come-first-served basis, but occasionally people complain that their files get bumped by others because complex cases take longer to process and because some visa posts are more backlogged.

Now, experts say, there’s one more element that dictates which permanent immigration applicants could get an easier — and quicker — ride.

For at least some programs, it comes down to whether their applications are initially sorted into a “Green Bin” or “Standard Bin” for processing.

“It means that you have no control over whether you are left in a multi-year limbo or if your application supercharges through the application processing stream,” immigration lawyer Andrew Koltun told the Star.

“Any of those who wait years can continue to wait years, whereas new applicants can jump ahead of them.”

Since 2018, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has used an automated system to triage temporary-resident visas applications for students and visitors in China and India.

Previously, in-paper or mailed-in applications could not be fed into the automated system. The move to almost exclusively online processing will see a bigger swathe of applications enter the automatic sorting system.

Officials found that “routine files” can be assessed 87 per cent faster using the system and decided to expand its use at visa posts around the globe in January.

The automated triage system has now also, it turns out, quietly started for the first time for a permanent immigration program.

Through an access-to-information request, Koltun learned the government signed off on the technology in April 2021 for use in processing sponsorship applications of foreign spouses who are in Canada.

Here’s how it works, according to an internal memo:

  • Based on “evidence-based, data driven rules” from past applications and decisions, the automated system identifies the low-complexity cases that would have a high likelihood of being approved without officer review;
  • These cases are placed in what’s known as the Green Bin, where officers will move on to conducting medical, criminal and security assessments to make sure the sponsored spouse is admissible to Canada; however,
  • The rest of the applications are referred to the Standard Bin, where they are assessed by officers for both eligibility and admissibility as per standard procedures.

The memo said the model was developed and tested using some 40,000 inland spousal applications processed in 2018 and 2019. It’s expected half of new applications would be slotted to the Green Bin for quicker processing.

The notes also pointed to “seven criteria” coded in the automated screening process, but redacted what those criteria were.

Immigration department spokesperson Rémi Larivière said the pilot program, launched in April 2021, showed the automated system was efficient and effective at identifying routine and straightforward cases for streamlined processing. Since June, it’s been used permanently to process inland spousal applications.

“The automated system never refuses or recommends refusing an application. Where there is a refusal decision, it is made by the officer based on their manual review of the application,” he noted.

Experts believe it’s just a matter of time before the triage system is adopted throughout the immigration system.

The pilot project comes amid ramped-up efforts by Canada to “modernize” the antiquated immigration system to cope with skyrocketing immigration backlogs that have reached more than two million applications in both temporary and permanent streams.

Since the project’s inception, about 25,000 applications have been triaged into the Green Bin while 24,620 have been referred to the Standard Bin. The automated system has been credited with driving down these applications’ overall processing time back to the 12-month pre-pandemic standard.

Larivière said the system uses a combination of rules developed by staff and rules generated through machine learning that have been assessed, adjusted if necessary, and reviewed.

Data used and rules developed through machine learning are vetted by lawyers, privacy experts, policy analysts and experienced immigration officers. The system is monitored to identify and mitigate risks related to bias, procedural fairness, privacy and accountability.

However, Koltun worries applications in the Green Bin would be less scrutinized and more likely to get a favourable decision by officers during the admissibility assessment as a result of the machine pre-screening.

“That can lead to unconscious bias, where if someone has been already approved (for eligibility), then you deem it more trustworthy,” he explained.

Permanent-resident applications take much longer to process than a temporary visa because of the extent of the scrutiny involved. Processing time for the federal skilled-worker program, for instance, averages 26 months, but a study permit only takes about 12 weeks.

“Now, all the applications are run through triaging and if I don’t meet the criteria, I will go into a slower processing queue,” said Koltun. “But if you meet the criteria, you will jump ahead of me. In a temporary-resident visa application, which is less complex, the impact of this is felt less.

“In spousal sponsorship, where processing times can range up to 24 months, the difference of being placed in this Green Bin versus the Standard Bin can be years. It’s also why applicants are very unhappy and confused with the process because they do see others who applied after them get their approvals, whereas they’ve been stuck.”

Critic Lou Janssen Dangzalan said the immigration department should communicate to the public that the first-come-first-served tenet the immigration system has run on is “out,” replaced with the automated triage.

“IRCC still continues this mythology that if you file now ahead of somebody else, your application is going to be treated first,” said Dangzalan, a founding member of the Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association.

“They’re dealing with people’s expectations. And in the context of a massive backlog, transparency and honesty is probably their best friend.”

The experts said the digital transformation of the immigration system is needed, but officials have to be more clear about the use of analytics and artificial intelligence in application processing.

Earlier this year, the parliamentary immigration committee studied the department’s advanced analytics program and another tool called Chinook software developed to fast-track processing of study permits.

The committee recommended officials publish information on all artificial intelligence software programs, and undertake proper public consultations regarding new technologies, as well as an independent oversight for the expanded use of artificial intelligence.

Koltun agreed that officials need to be more transparent about the rules used to triage in the automated system.

“IRCC’s overriding concern is program integrity and the notion that people will game the system, but you should know the case to meet for an enhanced processing,” said Koltun. “If IRCC is using objective criteria, it’s unclear to me how I could game the system.”

Larivière said the inland spousal sponsorship program is currently the only permanent immigration program that uses the advanced analytics for triage. He declined to comment if it will be expanded to other permanent streams.

Source: Will your immigration application be fast-tracked? It depends whether it hits Canada’s new ‘Green Bin’

Could robots take your job? How automation is changing the future of work

A reminder that immigration levels and mix should factor in trends in automation. Current high levels do not do so, nor do relaxed requirements for Temporary Foreign Workers. Neither approach will improve productivity and GDP per capita, nor will these approaches encourage Canadian firms to invest more in technology and automation:

A precursor to our automated future sits inconspicuously off Baldwin Street in Toronto’s busy Kensington Market.

The RC Coffee Robo Cafe, which juts out slightly from the brick wall by the sidewalk, bills itself as Canada’s first robotic café.

As opposed to a vending-machine brew that dispenses coffee from hand-filled urns, the robotic barista makes each cup of coffee, espresso, latte and more by request, ready in just a few moments.

For Jasmine Arnold, visiting Toronto from Providence, R.I., the iced matcha prepared at RC Coffee topped drinks dispensed by a vending machine and was on par with coffee served at a chain.

While the drink went down smooth, she told Global News the experience was unique if a little jarring.

“I have mixed feelings about a robot, from a jobs perspective,” she said, expressing some discomfort about what this means for the prospects of human baristas.

After trying his own robo-poured beverage, Arnold’s partner Eric echoed her sentiments but noted that with the pandemic changing our expectations of what work can be done from where, it seemed to align with recent shifts in work.

“I think this is kind of where we’re going as a society,” he said.

Workforce shifts driven by a tight labour market and the COVID-19 pandemicare opening the door to a faster adoption of automated solutions, but at least one expert is warning that Canada might not be prepared for how quickly robotic workers are set to transform the economy.

Robots in demand in tight labour markets

Statistics Canada said Friday that though Canada shed some 31,000 jobs in July, the country’s unemployment rate remained at its lowest ever at 4.9 per cent last month. The labour market is even hotter in the U.S., with unemployment falling to 3.5 per cent in July.

This tight North American job market is driving up interest in automated solutions, says Brad Ford, vice-president of sales for KioCafé in Canada, the company that operates RC Coffee.

The company had just one RC Coffee kiosk in Toronto in the fall of 2020, which it had launched as an “experiment,” he recalls. But in the past two and a half years, it’s scaled up to five locations across the Greater Toronto Area with three more on the way.

Most storefront locations are in high-traffic neighbourhoods, but there’s also a standalone RC Coffee kiosk in the Toronto General Hospital.

Hospitals, universities and airports have been among Kio Cafe’s most interested customers, Ford says, as these locations have been unable to staff their coffee shops quickly enough to accommodate the surge in demand from the pandemic recovery.

“People have been knocking at our door trying to buy the equipment from us, especially in the U.S., where they just cannot get the staff to open up the locations,” he says.

Companies in other sectors are also increasingly embracing automation. Beyond just installing self-checkout systems, grocers like Loblaw and Sobeys are turning to robotics to speed up fulfilment. The company announced plans in June to open an automated distribution centre in the GTA by early 2024.

The Association for Advancing Automation said that U.S. workplace orders for robots were up 40 per cent in the first quarter of 2022. That followed a record 2021 that saw a 28 per cent jump in orders fueled by non-automotive sectors.

Pandemic accelerated automated future

While it was “coincidental” that RC Coffee offered a touch-free experience just as the pandemic was getting underway, Ford notes this has also been an in-demand upside.

The pace of automation has only been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, says Dan Ciuriak, senior fellow with the Center for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont.

He points to the 2020 Beijing Olympics (held in 2021), when China ramped up development of contactless services to reduce opportunities for COVID transmission, as a hint at what to expect our post-pandemic realities to become.

Looking at hospitals specifically, Ciuriak says there’s an opportunity to automate work beyond just the food court.

Amid a widely reported health-care staffing shortage, more than one in five Canadian nurses worked paid overtime shifts in July, Statistics Canada reported Friday. Some 11.2 per cent of nurses were meanwhile off sick for part of the week when the labour force survey was conducted.

Ciuriak says that there’s an opportunity for increasingly intelligent robots to support or even replace some nursing jobs as Canada’s ageing population threatens to overwhelm an already stressed health system.

“That is going to be a great boon and will enable us to actually get through this demographic transition,” he says.

This is largely what futurists — Ciuriak included, he notes — had long expected our automated future to look like: robots working side-by-side with humans, streamlining simple tasks and making us more productive.

But developments in artificial intelligence are seeing more powerful chips accelerate the pace of automation, he says. Each time a machine surpasses a human in a knowledge-based field, such as Google’s DeepMind AI mastering chess, Ciuriak says we should consider the implications for work we long assumed was solely meant for humans.

“You’re seeing just tremendous scaling up of the power of these networks. And that is being reflected in how many artificial intelligence systems are breaking through human benchmarks. This is now a regular phenomenon,” he says.

“We’re at the dawn of a new era, and that’s going to have massive implications for the labour market.”

Service-sector jobs at risk

The services sector in particular is rife for disruption, Ciuriak says, and it’s not just entry-level positions at risk.

He argues, for example, that skills a person might gain from years of investment and studying toward a law degree could be largely replicated — and mass-produced — on a computer chip within the next decade.

When these services, typically constrained by human limits, become scaled up through automation, the implications for income generation and distribution will be immense. The owners of these machines would become new centres for wealth concentration, he argues, warranting a shift in thinking about how we tax the products of this work.

“We are embarking into a new type of economy that we’re not prepared to regulate or manage,” Ciuriak says.

While he doesn’t believe that RC Coffee Robo Cafes will ever replace the traditional barista or communal feel of the local coffee shop, Ford does acknowledge some “front-line” jobs could be at risk in our automated future.

He argues, however, that the machines themselves are “job creators.” Each cafe requires an extensive development and maintenance team behind them, and the machines themselves require the same material inputs as your typical Starbucks or Tim Hortons.

By enabling more coffee shop locations to open today rather than shuttering due to staff shortages, Ford argues that java producers are able to keep their businesses running and maintain employment throughout the coffee supply chain.

“The more that we can roll these things out and get great coffee out there, I think it’s great for everybody.”

Source: Could robots take your job? How automation is changing the future of work

Smart tech is key to solving Canada’s service failures and ending passport seekers’ woes

All true and necessary, but government has mixed record on such large and complex IT projects.

Even harder is the necessary simplification and streamlining of programs and processes that would facilitate IT and related modernization:

Canadians are missing flights, cancelling trips and even camping out overnight at government offices as the passport application process has utterly failed to keep up with post-pandemic demand.

With anger and frustration over the delays flaring into a national issue, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named a task force of ten cabinet members to try to address the problem and figure out how to end the backlogs on passports and immigration processing.

This comes not long after Auditor General Karen Hogan found veterans seeking disability benefits also face unacceptable delays in the processing of their applications by Veteran Affairs Canada.

Hogan found veterans applying for disability benefits waiting almost 40 weeks for a decision on their first application compared to the 16-week average processing time for other benefits packages. And she reported that the department’s inability to meet timely delivery standards has been going on for seven years.

As governments struggle to fix these problems, it has to be pointed out that a simple automated solution is readily at hand. It’s just a question of the government’s ability to take advantage of it.

Better data management

In fact, the current backlogs on passports, immigration paperwork and veterans’ applications are nothing less than case studies in the need for digital innovation to enable government departments to quickly and efficiently upgrade service delivery and deliver a better experience for Canadians.

Organizations around the world are increasingly leveraging intelligent automation, particularly Robotic Process Automation (RPA), to tackle business challenges, including the need for greater efficiency, reduced processing time and better data.

Addressing shortcomings in data operations is one of the hallmarks of RPA, a software technology that uses digital workers for repetitive tasks like data entry and validation. RPA reliably captures and handles data faster and more accurately, while streamlining the client experience. As importantly, RPA frees employees from repetitive, mundane work, allowing them to be more productive and focus on better solutions.

Solutions seen globally

For example, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has adopted RPA solutions to address persistent service problems similar to those faced by Veterans Affairs Canada. Among other improvements, the U.S. VA has saved over 500,000 hours by leveraging RPA in its mailroom. It has successfully automated the review and classification of more than 8,000 physical mail packets on a daily basis, representing 277 unique document types.

Such examples of positive RPA implementation are myriad. For instance, ATB Financial, Alberta’s Crown-owned bank, has used RPA to achieve a 99 per cent improvement in turnaround time for end-to-end processes, as well as other upgrades. Other sectors worldwide have successfully implemented RPA technology, including in accounting, retail trade, government, professional services and manufacturing.

The Canadian government is, of course, well aware of the game-changing potential for service delivery through intelligent automation, and is committed to digital transformation in its 46 departments and agencies. But it started this process from a weak position, with officials informing Prime Minister Trudeau that critical federal computer systems and applications were “rusting out and at risk of failure.”

The federal government has committed billions of dollars to new digital operations, and Shared Services Canada has been mandated to modernize these systems, but accomplishing overall change in such a massive, traditionally-siloed organization has proven challenging. Despite its efforts, the government acknowledges that some of its services are still hard to access and use.

Changing expectations

The demand for processing improvements is on the rise. The pandemic has produced a transformation in services and online access across the socio-economic landscape, and Canadians increasingly expect governments to meet this standard.

“We’re at a point where digital matters so much … we saw that amplified in the last two years,” Catherine Luelo, who was appointed the federal chief information officer last year, recently told In Budget 2022, the government promised legislation allowing it to expand availability of its digital platform services, including in other jurisdictions in Canada, and Luelo is working on ways to accelerate the institution-wide transformation away from legacy technology at the federal level.

Indeed, as thousands of frustrated would-be travellers can attest, the opportunities for RPA-based improvements have never been greater as the government tries to reopen services in the face of post-COVID demand. RPA is able to be procured by individual government departments and could quickly assist in speeding up passport and immigration processing. Intelligent automation could also provide solutions to the service problems now causing long wait times at airports in Toronto, Montreal and Calgary.

When service providers modernize their administration processes using RPA, they are not only able to realize solutions to specific needs but also make their operations scalable. This scalability through intelligent automation is the key tool needed to respond effectively to the surge in demand that has been so badly tying up the country’s passport offices and airports, with no end in sight.

Michael McGeehan is the North American Intelligent Automation Leader at SS&C Blue Prism.

Source: Smart tech is key to solving Canada’s service failures and ending passport seekers’ woes

Bailey: Harnessing the Best of Automation While Minimizing the Downside Risks

A good summary of some of the issues. Arguably, the USA is ahead of us given our (over) reliance on immigration, both permanent and temporary, to address labour shortages rather that developing and implementing technologies:

The pandemic and economic disruptions have accelerated the adoption of automation technologies that will introduce important benefits to businesses and consumers but may also create disruptions for many workers and communities. Policymakers and leaders can take steps now to help navigate these disruptive changes.

Automation covers a broad range of technologies and advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics that are deployed in novel ways to increase productivity or expand business capabilities. The Federal Reserve’s most recent Beige Book included observations from several districts noting that companies facing labor shortages were turning to automation as a solution. A McKinsey survey of 800 business executives found that 85 percent were accelerating their digitization and automation as a result of COVID-19. Companies across North America also spent a record $2 billion for almost 40,000 robots in 2021.

These new technologies are increasingly being deployed in a wide range of economic sectors. For example, in agriculture, drones such as the Agras MG-1 can provide precision irrigation for over 6,000 square meters of farmland in just under 10 minutes. John Deere is piloting autonomously driving tractors that can plow fields and plant crops with minimum human interaction. The autonomous robot created by Carbon Robotics can kill 100,000 weeds per hour, leading to increased crop yields, and reduce the use of pesticides by using nothing but lasers. 

These and other innovations will bring numerous benefits to businesses and consumers alike, but the transition could be disruptive to workers and communities. Policymakers should consider several actions to help harness the best of automation while minimizing the downside risks.

Community Dynamism. Policymakers and community leaders have a broad array of community development tools in their toolboxes, including Opportunity ZonesNew Markets Tax Credits, and Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds. But they should first take a step back and consider how to create the conditions for dynamism, which AEI’s Ryan Streeter notes is “a culture rooted in a taste for discovery and betterment [that] can shape—indeed, has shaped—our institutions and policies, from how we structure patents to how we tax capital investments.” It offers a conceptual way to think through, structure, and orient all the existing policies and projects aimed at strengthening communities.

Boost Research and Development. The US must continue investing and expanding research and development on emerging technologies, including AI, to power the next generation of smart technologies, robotics, and drones. Addressing the computer chip shortage is critical, including bolstering domestic manufacturing capabilities. Various proposals being considered in the Bipartisan Innovation Act will advance this important work.

Invest in Human Capital. Automation is eroding jobs further up the skills ladder, which is raising the skill level for every new job while creating entirely new lines of work. Boston Consulting Group and the Burning Glass Institute analyzed more than 15 million job postings to understand how skill requests changed from 2016 to 2021. They found an acceleration in the pace of change. Nearly three-quarters of jobs changed more from 2019 through 2021 (with a compound annual growth rate of 22 percent) than they did from 2016 through 2018 (19 percent). The main driver was found to be technology, which redefined jobs sometimes radically and sometimes more subtly. The US should strengthen its entire skills pipeline to ensure individuals have the skills these jobs require. Community college programs will need to align with these new trends and employer needs. Companies should also explore apprenticeships to provide work-based learning opportunities for individuals transitioning careers. Skilled immigration, through ideas such as Heartland Visas, can also bolster the human capital available to communities.

Broadband Build-Out. State and community leaders must begin preparing their broadband plans to make the most of the $65 billion in new broadband fundingavailable through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Connectivity enables smart devices and AI systems to talk to and coordinate with one another. It allows scaling of critical services, including telehealth and online job training. Leaders must begin developing their plans and priorities now to ensure projects support broader economic and community needs, prevent overbuilding, and ensure the funds build out future-proof infrastructure to underserved communities.

Regulatory Sandboxes. Policymakers should create regulatory sandboxes that invite experimentation with new technologies and automated systems. These are a win-win because they give policymakers the chance to better understand the new technologies they are responsible for regulating, while providing entrepreneurs and investors with clearer regulatory pathways and guardrails toward which they can develop. North Carolina launched a FinTech Regulatory Sandbox that allows pilot projects to test emerging technologies and business models, including technologies that would otherwise be illegal under existing regulations. Arizona created a regulatory pathway for safely developing and testing autonomous and connected vehicle technologies. These flexible regulatory environments can accelerate innovation and lead to smarter polices and regulations that protect consumers.

AI and automation will introduce important benefits to communities, businesses, and society. Policymakers and community leaders have important roles in helping to accelerate the use of these technologies while minimizing the disruption they pose for different communities.

Source: Harnessing the Best of Automation While Minimizing the Downside Risks

How America’s talent wars are reshaping business

In Canada, by contrast, immigration is relied upon to meet labour force requirements. One of the consequences, unforeseen or not, was reduced pressure to improve productivity and innovation:

Dcl logistics, like so many American firms, had a problem last year. Its business, fulfilling orders of goods sold online, faced surging demand. But competition for warehouse workers was fierce, wages were rising and staff turnover was high. So dcl made two changes. It bought robots to pick items off shelves and place them in boxes. And it reduced its reliance on part-time workers by hiring more full-time staff. “What we save in having temp employees, we lose in productivity,” explains Dave Tu, dcl’s president. Full-time payroll has doubled in the past year, to 280.Listen to this story

As American companies enter another year of uncertainty, the workforce has become bosses’ principal concern. Chief executives cite worker shortages as the greatest threat to their businesses in 2022, according to a survey by the Conference Board, a research organisation. On January 28th the Labour Department reported that firms had spent 4% more on wages and benefits in the fourth quarter, year on year, a rise not seen in 20 years. Paycheques of everyone from McDonald’s burger-flippers to Citi group bankers are growing fatter. This goes some way to explaining why profit margins in the s&p 500 index of large companies, which have defied gravity in the pandemic, are starting to decline. On February 2nd Meta spooked investors by reporting a dip in profits, due in part to a rise in employee-related costs as it moves from Facebook and its sister social networks into the virtual-reality metaverse.

At the same time, firms of all sizes and sectors are testing new ways to recruit, train and deploy staff. Some of these strategies will be temporary. Others may reshape American business.

The current jobs market looks extra ordinary by historical standards. December saw 10.9m job openings, up by more than 60% from December 2019. Just six workers were available for every ten open jobs (see chart 1). Predictably, many seem comfortable abandoning old positions to seek better ones. This is evident among those who clean bedsheets and stock shelves, as well as those building spreadsheets and selling stocks. In November 4.5m workers quit their jobs, a record. Even if rising wages and an ebbing pandemic lure some of them back to work, the fight for staff may endure.

For decades American firms slurped from a deepening pool of labour, as more women entered the workforce and globalisation greatly expanded the ranks of potential hires. That expansion has now mostly run its course, says Andrew Schwedel of Bain, a consultancy. Simultaneously, other trends have conspired to make the labour pool shallower than it might have been. Men continue to slump out of the job market: the share of men aged 25 to 54 either working or looking for work was 88% at the end of last year, down from 97% in the 1950s. Immigration, which plunged during Donald Trump’s nativist presidency, has sunk further, to less than a quarter of the level in 2016. And covid-19 may have prompted more than 2.4m baby boomers into early retirement, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis.

These trends will not reverse quickly. Boomers won’t sprint back to work en masse. With Republicans hostile to outsiders and Democrats squabbling over visas for skilled ones, a surge in immigration looks unlikely. Some men have returned to the workforce since the depths of the covid recession in 2020, but the male participation rate has plateaued below pre-pandemic levels. A tight labour market may persist.

But base pay is rising, too. Bank of America says it will raise its minimum wage to $25 by 2025. In September Walmart, America’s largest private employer, set its minimum wage at $12 an hour, below many states’ requirement of $13-14 but well above the federal minimum wage of $7.25. Amazon has lifted average wages in its warehouses to $18. The average hourly wage for production and nonsupervisory employees in December was 5.8% above the level a year earlier; compared with a 4.7% jump for all private-sector workers. Firms face pressure to lift them higher still. High inflation ensured that only workers in leisure and hospitality saw a real increase in hourly pay last year (see chart 2).

Raising compensation may not, on its own, be sufficient for companies to overcome the labour squeeze, however. This is where the other strategies come in, starting with changes to recruitment. To deal with the fact that, for some types of job, there simply are not enough qualified candidates to fill vacancies, many businesses are loosening hiring criteria previously deemed a prerequisite.

The share of job postings that list “no experience required” more than doubled from January 2020 to September 2021, reckons Burning Glass, an analytics firm. Easing rigid preconditions may be sensible, even without a labour shortage. A four-year degree, argues Joseph Fuller of Harvard Business School, is an unreliable guarantor of a worker’s worth. The Business Roundtable and the us Chamber of Commerce, two business groups, have urged companies to ease requirements that job applicants have a four-year university degree, advising them to value workers’ skills instead.

Another way to deal with a shortage of qualified staff is for firms to impart the qualifications themselves. In September, the most recent month for which Burning Glass has data, the share of job postings that offer training was more than 30% higher than in January 2020. New providers of training are proliferating, from university-run “bootcamps” to short-term programmes by specialists such as General Assembly and big employers themselves. Employers in Buffalo have hired General Assembly to run data-training schemes for local workers who are broadly able but who lack specific tech skills. Google, a technology giant, says it will consider workers who earn its online certificate in data analytics, for example, to be equivalent to a worker with a four-year degree.

Besides revamping recruitment and training, companies are modifying how their workers work. Some positions are objectively bad, with low pay, unpredictable scheduling and little opportunity for growth. Zeynep Ton of the mit Sloan School of Management contends that making low-wage jobs more appealing improves retention and productivity, which supports profits in the long term. As interesting as Walmart’s pay increases, she argues, are the retail behemoth’s management changes. Last year it said that two-thirds of the more than 565,000 hourly workers in its stores would work full time, up from about half in 2016. They would have predictable schedules week to week and more structured mentorship. Other companies may take note. Many of the complaints raised by labour organisers at Starbucks and Amazon have as much to do with safety and stress on the job as they do wages or benefits.

Companies that cannot find enough workers are trying to do with fewer of them. Sometimes that means trimming services. Many hotel chains, including Hilton, have made daily housekeeping optional. “We’ve been very thoughtful and cautious about what positions we fill,” Darren Woods, boss of ExxonMobil, told the oil giant’s investors on February 1st.

Increasingly, this also involves investments in automation. Orders of robots last year surpassed the pre-pandemic high in both volume and value, according to the Association for Advancing Automation. ups, a shipping firm, is boosting productivity with more automated bagging and labelling; new electronic tags will eliminate millions of manual scans each day.

New business models are pushing things along. Consider McEntire Produce in Columbia, South Carolina. Each year more than 45,000 tonnes of sliced lettuce, tomatoes and onions move through its factory. Workers pack them in bags, place bags in boxes and stack boxes on pallets destined for fast-food restaurants. McEntire has raised wages, but staff turnover remains high. Even as worker costs have climbed, the upfront expense of automation has sunk. So the firm plans to install new robots to box and stack. It will lease these from a new company called Formic, which offers robots at an hourly rate that is less than half the cost of a McEntire worker doing the same job. By 2025 McEntire wants to automate 60% of its volume, with robots handling the back-breaking work and workers performing tasks that require more skill. One new position, introduced in the past year, looks permanent: a manager whose sole job is to listen to and support staff so they do not quit. 

Both workers and employers are adapting. For the most part, they are doing so outside the construct of collective bargaining. Despite a flurry of activity—Starbucks baristas in Buffalo and Amazon workers in Alabama will hold union votes in February—unions remain weak. Last year 10.3% of American workers were unionised, matching the record low of 2019. Within the private sector, the unionisation rate is just 6.1%. Strikes and pickets will be a headache for some bosses. But it is quits that could cause them sleepless nights.

Pay as they go

Companies’ most straightforward tactic to deal with worker shortages is to raise pay. If firms are to part with cash, they prefer the inducements to be one-off rather than recurring and sticky, as with higher wages. That explains a proliferation of fat bonuses. Before the Christmas rush Amazon began offering workers a $3,000 sign-on sweetener. Compensation for lawyers at America’s top 50 firms rose by 16.5% last year, in part thanks to bonuses, according to a survey by Citigroup and Hildebrandt, a consultancy. In January Bank of America said it would give staff $1bn in restricted stock, which vests over time.

Source: How America’s talent wars are reshaping business

Automation could make 12 million jobs redundant. Here’s who’s most at risk

Although a European study, likely more broadly applicable to Canada and other countries, something that advocates of current and higher levels of immigration to Canada understate or ignore:

Up to a third of job roles in Europe could be made redundant by automation over the next 20 years as companies battle to increase productivity and fill skills gaps created by an ageing population, according to Forrester. 

The tech analyst’s latest Future of Jobs Forecast estimates that as many as 12 million jobs could be lost to automation across Europe by 2040, primarily impacting workers in industries such as retail, food services, and leisure and hospitality.  

Mid-skill labour jobs that consist of simple, routine tasks are most at risk from automation, the report said. These roles make up 38% of the workforce in Germany, 34% of the workforce in France, and 31% of the workforce in the UK. 

In total, 49 million jobs in ‘Europe-5’ (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK) could potentially be automated, according to Forrester. This jeopardizes casual work, such as zero-hour contracts in the UK, and low-paid, part-time jobs where workers hold “little bargaining power”. 

A combination of pressures is prompting businesses to ramp up their investments in automation, particularly in countries where industry, construction and agriculture are big business. 

While small and medium enterprises (SMEs) with up to 50 workers capture two-thirds of European employment, their productivity lags that of larger corporations, according to Forrester. In manufacturing, for example, ‘microenterprises’ are 40% less productive than large companies. 

A five-year study of robot adoption at French manufacturing firms found that robots lowered production overheads by reducing labor costs by between 4% and 6%. 

Business leaders also see automation technology as a means of filling the gaps created by Europe’s ageing population, which Forrester describes as “a demographic time bomb.” By 2050, Europe will have 30 million fewer people of working age than in 2020, the analyst said. 

Productivity lost to the pandemic is seeing organizations look to machine processes to recoup efficiency, while industries that were already using automation to grow their revenues have invested even more heavily in the technology to increase service delivery and mitigate pandemic restrictions. 

“Lost productivity due to COVID-19 is forcing companies globally to automate manual processes and improve remote work,” said Michael O’Grady, principal forecast analyst at Forrester. 

“European organisations are also in a particularly strong position to embrace automation because of Europe’s declining working-age population and the high number of routine, low-skilled jobs that can be easily automated.” 

While many low-skilled and routine roles face being replaced by machine processes, nine million new jobs are forecast to be created in Europe by 2040 in emerging sectors like green energy and smart cities, Forrester said.

This means that, all told, only three million jobs will truly be ‘lost’ to automation by 2040 – the caveat being that people who lose jobs may not find new ones.

Business leaders outside of Europe are also exploring the role of automation in bridging skills shortages and speeding up processes in the enterprise. 

Polling of 500 C-suite executives and senior management personnel by automation platform UIPath found that 78% were likely to increase their investment in automation tools to help them address labor shortages. Business leaders are turning to automation because they are struggling to find new talent (74%). 

At the same time, 85% of survey respondents said incorporating automation and automation training into their organization would help them attract new talent and hold onto existing staff. Meanwhile, leaders said automation was already helping them to save time (71%), improve productivity (63%) and save money (59%). 

Academic forecasts of jobs that could be lost to automation vary wildly. The European Parliament’s 2021 ‘Digital automation and the future of work’ report found that estimates varied from as little as 9% to almost half (47%). 

“Machine-learning experts often drive this uncertainty,” said Forrester. 

“They imagine future computer capabilities without understanding enterprise technology adoption constraints and the cultural barriers within an organization that resist change.” 


Canada is refusing more study permits. Is new AI technology to blame?

Given the high volumes (which immigration lawyers and consultants benefit from), expanded use of technology and templates inevitable and necessary, although thorough review and safeguards necessary.

Alternate narrative, given reporting on abuse and exploitation of international students and the program itself (The reality of life in Canada for international students), perhaps a system generating more refusals has merit:

Soheil Moghadam applied twice for a study permit for a postgraduate program in Canada, only to be refused with an explanation that read like a templated answer.

The immigration officer was “not satisfied that you will leave Canada at the end of your stay,” he was told.

After a third failed attempt, Moghadam, who already has a master’s degree in electronics engineering from Iran, challenged the refusal in court and the case was settled. He’s now studying energy management at the New York Institute of Technology in Vancouver.

His Canadian lawyer, Zeynab Ziaie, said that in the past couple of years, she has noticed a growing number of study permit refusals like Moghadam’s. The internal notes made by officers reveal only generic analyses based on cookie-cutter language and often have nothing to do with the particular evidence presented by the applicant.

“We’re seeing a lot of people that previously would have been accepted or have really what we consider as complete files with lots of evidence of financial support, lots of ties to their home country. These kinds of files are just being refused,” said Ziaie, who added that she has seen more than 100 of these refusals in her practice in the past two years.

It’s a Microsoft Excel-based system called Chinook. 

Its existence came to light during a court case involving Abigail Ocran, a woman from Ghana who was refused a study permit by the Immigration Department.

Government lawyers in that case filed an affidavit by Andie Daponte, director of international-network optimization and modernization, who detailed the working and application of Chinook.

That affidavit has created a buzz among those practising immigration law, who see the new system — the department’s transition to artificial intelligence — as a potential threat to quality decision making, and its arrival as the harbinger of more troubling AI technology that could transform how immigration decisions are made in this country.

All eyes are now on the pending decision of the Ocran case to see if and how the court will weigh in on the use of Chinook. 

Chinook was implemented in March 2018 to help the Immigration Department handle an exponential growth in cases within its existing, and antiquated, Global Case Management System (GCMS).

Between 2011 and 2019, before everything slowed down during the pandemic, the number of visitor visa applications skyrocketed by 109 per cent, with the caseload of applications for overseas work permits and study permits up by 147 per cent and 222 per cent, respectively.

In 2019 alone, Daponte said in his affidavit, Canada received almost 2.2 million applications from prospective visitors, in addition to 366,000 from people looking to work here and 431,500 from would-be international students.

Meanwhile, the department’s 17-year-old GCMS system, which requires officers to open multiple screens to download different information pertaining to an application, has not caught up. Each time decision-makers move from screen to screen they must wait for the system to load, causing significant delays in processing, especially in countries with limited network bandwidth.

Chinook was developed in-house and implemented “to enhance efficiency and consistency, and to reduce processing times,” Daponte said.

As a result, he said, migration offices have generally seen an increase of between five per cent and 35 per cent in the number of applications they have been able to process.

Here’s how Chinook works: an applicant’s information is extracted from the old system and populated in a spreadsheet, with each cell on the same row filled with data from that one applicant — such as name, age, purpose of visit, date of receipt of the application and previous travel history.

Each spreadsheet contains content from multiple applicants and is assigned to an officer to enable them to use “batch processes.”

After the assessment of an application is done, the officer will click on the decision column to prompt a pop-up window to record the decision, along with a notes generator if they’re giving reasons in the case of a refusal.

(An officer can refuse or approve an application, and sometimes hold it for further information.)

When done, decision-makers click a button labelled “Action List,” which organizes data for ease of transfer into the old system. It presents the decision, reasons for refusal if applicable, and any “risk indicators” or “local word flags” for each application.

The spreadsheets are deleted daily after the data transfer for privacy concerns.

While working on the spreadsheet, said Daponte, decision-makers continue to have access to paper applications or electronic documents and GCMS if needed.

“Chinook was built to save decision-makers time in querying GCMS for application information and to allow for the review of multiple applications,” Daponte noted.

However, critics are concerned that the way the system is set up may be guiding the officers toward certain conclusions, giving them the option of not reviewing all the material presented in each case, and that it effectively shields much of the decision making from real scrutiny.

According to Daponte’s court affidavit, the notes generator presents standard language that immigration officers may select, review and modify to fit the circumstances of an application in preparing reasons for refusal. The function is there to “assist them in the creation of reasons.”

Ziaie believes that explains the templated reasons for refusals she’s been seeing.

“These officers are looking at a spreadsheet of potentially 100 different applicants. And those names don’t mean anything to the officers. You could mix up rows. You could easily make errors,” said the Toronto lawyer.

“There’s no way to go back and check that because these decisions end up with very similar notes that are generated right when they’re refused. So my concern is about accountability. Every time we have a decision, it has to make sense. We don’t know if they make mistakes.”

That’s why she and other lawyers worry the surge of study permit refusals is linked to the implementation of Chinook. 

In fact, that question was put to Daponte during the cross-examination in the Ocran case by the Ghanaian student’s lawyer, Edos Omorotionmwan.

Immigration data obtained by Omorotionmwan showed the refusal rate of student permit applications had gone from 31 per cent in 2016 to 34 per cent in 2018, the year Chinook was launched. The trend continued in 2019 to 40 per cent and reached 53 per cent last year.

“Is there a system within the Chinook software requiring some oversight function where there is some other person to review what a visa officer has come up with before that decision is handed over to the applicants?” asked Omorotionmwan.

“Within Chinook, no,” replied Daponte, who also said there’s no mechanism within this platform to track if an officer has reviewed all the support documents and information pertaining to an applicant’s file in the GCMS data.

“This idea of using portals and technology to speed up the way things are done is the reality of the future,” said Vancouver-based immigration lawyer Will Tao, who has tracked the uses of Chinook and blogged about it.

“My concern as an advocate is: who did this reality negatively impact and what systems does it continue to uphold?”

Tao said the way the row of personal information is selected and set out in the Chinook spreadsheet “disincentivizes” officers to go into the actual application materials and support documents out of convenience.

“And then the officers are supposed to use those notes generators to justify their reasoning and not go into some of the details that you would like to see to reflect that they actually reviewed the facts of the case. The biggest problem I have is that this system has had very limited oversight,” he said.

“It makes it easier to refuse because you don’t have to look at all the facts. You don’t have to go through a deep, thoughtful analysis. You have a refusal notes generator that you can apply without having read the detailed study plans and financial documents.”

He points to Chinook’s built-in function that flags “risk factors” — such as an applicant’s occupation and intended employer’s information — for inconsistency in an application, as well as “local flag words” to triage and ensure priority processing of time-sensitive applications to attend a wedding or a funeral.

Those very same flag words used in the spreadsheet can also be misused to mark a particular group of applicants based on their personal profiles and pick them out for refusals, said Tao.

In 2019, in a case involving the revocation of citizenship to the Canadian-born sons of two Russian spies, the Supreme Court of Canada made a landmark ruling that helps guide judges to review the decisions of immigration officials.

In the unanimous judgment, Canada’s highest court ruled it would be “unacceptable for an administrative decision maker to provide an affected party formal reasons that fail to justify its decision, but nevertheless expect that its decision would be upheld on the basis of internal records that were not available to that party.”

Tao said he’s closely watching how the Ocran decision is going to shed light on the application of Chinook in the wake of that Supreme Court of Canada ruling over the reasonableness standard.

“Obviously, a lot of these applications have critical points that they get refused on and with the reasons being template and standard, it’s hard for reviewers to understand how that came to be,” he said.

In a response to the Star’s inquiry about the concerns raised about Chinook, the Immigration Department said the tool is simply to streamline the administrative steps that would otherwise be required in the processing of applications to improve efficiency.

“Decision makers are required to review all applications and render their decisions based on the information presented before them,” said spokesperson Nancy Caron.

“Chinook does not fundamentally change the way applications are processed, and it is always the officer that gives the rational for the decisions and not the Chinook tool.”

For immigration lawyer Mario Bellissimo, Chinook is another step in the Immigration Department’s move toward digitalization and modernization.

Ottawa has been using machine learning technology since 2018 to triage temporary resident visa applications from China and India, using a “set of rules derived from thousands of past officer decisions” then deployed by the technology to classify applications into high, medium and low complexity.

Cases identified as low complexity and low risk automatically receive positive eligibility decisions, allowing officers to review these files exclusively on the basis of admissibility. This enables officers to spend more time scrutinizing the more complex files.

Chinook, said Bellissimo, has gone beyond the triage. He contends it facilitates the decision-making process by officers.

The use of templated responses from the notes generator makes the refusal reasons “devoid of meaning,” he noted.

“Eventually, do you see age discriminators put into place for study permits when anyone over the age of 30 is all automatically streamed to a different tier because they are less likely bona fide students? This is the type of stuff we need to know,” Bellissimo explained.

“When they’re just pulling standard refusal reasons and just slapping it in, then those decisions become more difficult to understand and more difficult to challenge. Who made the decision? Was technology used? And that becomes a problem.”

He said immigration officials need to be accountable and transparent to applicants about the use of these technologies before they are rolled out, not after they become an issue.

Petra Molnar, a Canadian expert specializing in migration and technology, said automated decision-making and artificial intelligence tools are difficult to scrutinize because they are often very opaque, including how they are developed and deployed and what review mechanisms, if any, exist once they are in use.

“Decisions in the immigration and refugee context have lifelong and life-altering ramifications. People have the right to know what types of tools are being used against them and how they work, so that we can meaningfully challenge these types of systems.”

Ziaie, the lawyer, said she understands the tremendous pressure on front-line immigration officers, but if charging a higher application fee — a study permit application now costs $150 — can help improve the service and quality of decisions, then that should be implemented.

“They should allocate a fair amount of that revenue toward trying to hire more people, train their officers better and give them more time to review the files so they actually do get a better success rate,” she said. “By that, I mean fewer files going to Federal Court.”

As a study permit applicant, Moghadam said it’s frustrating not to understand how an immigration officer reaches a refusal decision because so much is at stake for the applicant.

It took him two extra years to finally obtain his study permit and pursue an education in Canada, let alone the additional application fees and hefty legal costs.

“Your life is put on hold and your future is uncertain,” said the 39-year-old, who had a decade of work experience in engineering for both Iranian and international companies.

“There’s the time, the costs, the stress and the anxiety.”


Rise of the Robots Speeds Up in Pandemic With U.S. Labor Scarce

Of note to Canadian policy makers as well given this trend will cross the border and needs to be taken into account in immigration policy:

American workers are hoping that the tight pandemic labor market will translate into better pay. It might just mean robots take their jobs instead.

Labor shortages and rising wages are pushing U.S. business to invest in automation. A recent Federal Reserve survey of chief financial officers found that at firms with difficulty hiring, one-third are implementing or exploring automation to replace workers. In earnings calls over the past month, executives from a range of businesses confirmed the trend.

Domino’s Pizza Inc. is “putting in place equipment and technology that reduce the amount of labor that is required to produce our dough balls,” said Chief Executive Officer Ritch Allison.
[time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”]

Mark Coffey, a group vice president at Hormel Foods Corp., said the maker of Spam spread and Skippy peanut butter is “ramping up our investments in automation” because of the “tight labor supply.”

The mechanizing of mundane tasks has been underway for generations. It’s made remarkable progress in the past decade: The number of industrial robots installed in the world’s factories more than doubled in that time, to about 3 million. Automation has been spreading into service businesses too.

The U.S. has lagged behind other economies, especially Asian ones, but the pandemic might trigger some catching up. With some 10.4 million open positions as of August, and record numbers of Americans quitting their jobs, the difficulty of finding staff is adding new incentives.

Ametek Inc. makes automation equipment for industrial firms, like motion trackers that are used from steel and lumber mills to packaging systems. Chief Executive Officer David A. Zapico says that part of the company is “firing on all cylinders.” That’s because “people want to remove labor from the processes,” he said on an earnings call. “In some places, you can’t hire labor.”

Unions have long seen automation as a threat. At U.S. ports, which lag their global peers in technology and are currently at the center of a major supply-chain crisis, the International Longshoremen’s Association has vowed to fight it.

Companies that say they want to automate “have one goal in mind: to eliminate your job, and put more money in their pockets,” ILA President Harold Daggett said in a video message to a June conference. “We’re going to fight this for 100 years.”

Some economists have warned that automation could make America’s income and wealth gaps worse.

“If it continues, labor demand will grow slowly, inequality will increase, and the prospects for many low-education workers will not be very good,” says Daron Acemoglu, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who testified Wednesday at a Senate hearing on the issue.

That’s not an inevitable outcome, Acemoglu says: Scientific knowhow could be used “to develop technologies that are more complementary to workers.” But, with research largely dominated by a handful of giant firms that spend the most money on it, “this is not the direction the technology is going currently.”

Knightscope makes security robots that look a bit like R2-D2 from Star Wars, and can patrol sites such as factory perimeters. The company says it’s attracting new clients who are having trouble hiring workers to keep watch. Its robots cost from $3.50 to $7.50 an hour, according to Chief Client Officer Stacy Stephens, and can be installed a month after signing a contract.

One new customer is the Los Angeles International Airport, one of the busiest in the U.S. Soon, Knightscope robots will be monitoring some of its parking lots.

They are “supplementing what we have in place and are not replacing any human services,” said Heath Montgomery, the airport’s director of public relations. “It’s another way we are providing exceptional guest experiences.”

Source: Rise of the Robots Speeds Up in Pandemic With U.S. Labor Scarce

Misattributed blame? Attitudes toward globalization in the age of automation

Interesting study and findings:

Many, especially low-skilled workers, blame globalization for their economic woes. Robots and machines, which have led to job market polarization, rising income inequality, and labor displacement, are often viewed much more forgivingly. This paper argues that citizens have a tendency to misattribute blame for economic dislocations toward immigrants and workers abroad, while discounting the effects of technology. Using the 2016 American National Elections Studies, a nationally representative survey, I show that workers facing higher risks of automation are more likely to oppose free trade agreements and favor immigration restrictions, even controlling for standard explanations for these attitudes. Although pocket-book concerns do influence attitudes toward globalization, this study calls into question the standard assumption that individuals understand and can correctly identify the sources of their economic anxieties. Accelerated automation may have intensified attempts to resist globalization.