“Although there are positive arguments around employee surveillance such as safety and recognition of good performance, it seems that it is often implemented in ways that add to stress whilst reducing the autonomy and dignity of employees,” says Naomi Climer, vice-president of the Royal Academy of Engineering.
A social contract
The gig economy is already blamed for making society’s poorest even more vulnerable. With the addition of hypersurveillance technology, ultimate outcomes will depend on governments, labour organisations and unions putting in place the regulatory framework to protect those at risk.
Singh says we need a new social contract, or 21st Century safety net, to enable anyone to prosper and thrive. “And welfare 2.0 will have to big as big and bold as the Beveridge vision that created the welfare state more than seven decades ago.”
Much as Winston Smith battles Big Brother in 1984, David Spencer, head of economics at Leeds University Business School, believes there will be resistance to hypersurveillance, limiting its impact. “In the end, we have choices over how technology evolves.”
Singh gives some examples of these choices: “We need to say to our employers, collectively, that it’s not okay to tag warehouse workers. We should insist that human rights legislation be rethought in an era of precision surveillance,” he says.
“We need to unionise in ever more innovative ways to make sure our voices are heard. We need forums to deliberate on ethical automation and AI, and we need to share and call out bad practice and bring government and business to our side.”
So freedom doesn’t have to mean slavery, and we might be able to stop Big Brother watching us too much… if we’re careful.
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