Artificial intelligence and co-determination - the future has begun

BDA AGENDA 10/23 | COMMENT OF THE WEEK | 17. Mail 2023

Christiane Benner, Second Chairwoman of IG Metall

AI - artificial intelligence, two letters that are on everyone's lips. The remarkable texts that the ChatGPT-4 program has been generating for a few months on the basis of a few keywords have triggered the public "hello-wake-up" experience. A visible breakthrough that is immediately accompanied by dystopian horror visions. Will AI take control of the universe in a few years and degrade us humans to mere recipients of orders?

As a trade unionist with a practical background, I'll start by going down a few levels. There are already enough questions about AI to answer - and to regulate - in day-to-day operations. AI, weak or strong, is already being used in all areas of the company, from research and development, logistics and production to marketing, sales and after sales. So-called collaborative robots, cobots, are used in production. Warehouses are optimized algorithmically and transport systems are driverless. In personnel selection, algorithmic systems are being used to pre-select applicants. Training and further education has moved into the three-dimensional metaverse in some companies, fueled by contact bans during the coronavirus pandemic.

Technology is advancing in seven-league boots. In contrast, the Works Constitution Act, the essential basis for co-determination in the workplace, remains unchanged. Its core dates back to 1972, a time when computers were the size of a detached house. Impressively symbolized by Hal 9000 from Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece "2001 - A Space Odyssey". At the end of the movie, the on-board computer clearly declares its omnipotence to the last surviving spaceship pilot: "Dave, this conversation is useless, it's going nowhere. Farewell!" To make that clear right away: He couldn't treat seasoned IG Metall works council members like that!

We don't want it to come to that. That is why IG Metall is calling for the Works Constitution Act to be modernized and overhauled. It urgently needs to be updated - also and especially for dealing with AI! Issues such as job security, occupational health and safety, as well as professional development and personnel selection, will arise in a completely different way than before. Works councils must be informed transparently. Particularly in the case of systems with self-learning algorithms, they must also be able to consult experts who can assess complex developments. This is also in the employer's interest.

Because the consequences of the use of AI are so far-reaching, works councils must also be given a genuine right of co-determination in the strategic development of companies and in the - forward-looking - training for new fields of application. Personal rights, data protection and anonymization of data - the list could go on and on, but space is limited here. ChatGPT-4 - take over!