Friday Five: TUC warns of staff ‘hired and fired by algorithm’

Zone’s Martha Green handpicks and shares the five best new stories on digital trends, experiences and technologies…

1. TUC warns of algorithm ‘hire and fire’ culture

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has called for new legal protections regarding theuse of AI in the workplace. In what the TUC is calling “huge gaps” in UK employment law, it says workers could be “hired and fired by algorithm” and wants to make it a legal right for workers to have any high-risk decisions reviewed by a human.

As AI becomes more sophisticated the fear is it will be entrusted with decisions such as analysing performance metrics — or deciding who should be let go. Discrimination by algorithm has been well documented recently, for example facial recognition tech was dropped by IBM after it was trained to recognise white faces more easily.

2. Turing unveiled as face of new £50 banknote

Alan Turing is the face of the Bank of England’s new £50 note. The code-breaking World War Two hero helped Britain win by breaking the German Naval Enigma cipher in 1942 but was convicted of ‘gross indecency’ for being homosexual and sentenced to 12 months of hormone therapy, which led to his suicide in 1952.

Turing was picked out of the 225,000 people nominated for the honour. The director of GCHQ, Jeremy Fleming, said: “Turing was embraced for his brilliance and persecuted for being gay. His legacy is a reminder of the value of embracing all aspects of diversity, but also the work we still need to do to become truly inclusive.”

3. Facial recognition beats the Covid mask test

The increased use of masks during the pandemic caused an obvious issue for facial recognition technology, but the technology has adapted. In January 2021 the US Department of Homeland Security reported a 96% success rate testing on those wearing a mask (albeit in a ‘controlled-scenario’ test).

While there are widespread privacy concerns about the use of facial recognition technology, Disney World has begun a trial of the tech with its customers as a form of admission entry for a ticketless and touchless experience. Most importantly, the technology does not require the customer to take their face mask off.

4. Harry is the fresh prince of Silicon Valley

The Prince of Wales has landed a job at a Silicon Valley start-up worth an estimated $1bn. The Duke of Sussex is now the chief impact officer of BetterUp, a platform that offers professional coaching, mental health advice and immersive learning. The Duke says he hopes to use his experiences to help others turn “pain into purpose”.

The company’s website lists Harry as part of its leadership team, describing him as a “humanitarian, military veteran, mental wellness advocate, and environmentalist”. Harry said he had personally benefited from coaching provided by BetterUp, where he was matched with an “awesome coach” who gave him a fresh perspective.

5. Smart backpack is alternative to guide dog

Researchers from Intel and the University of Georgia have created an AI-powered, voice-activated backpack that helps its wearer navigate through the power of speech. It uses a connected camera worn in a jacket and a battery pack in a bum bag, coupled with a computing unit so it can respond to voice commands.

Engineered to help visually impaired people perceive the surrounding world, the backpack could be useful as an alternative to guide dogs. The unit audibly describes the world around the wearer, giving them information about traffic, changing elevations and so on. The system is in its testing phase as the project awaits funds.

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