Second International Workshop on

Artificial Intelligence for Equity (AI4Eq)

Against Modern Indentured Servitude

In association with ISTAS 2021

Wednesday 27th October, 2021 (9.00am-5.00pm EDT)

Hosted by University of Waterloo, Ontario (CA), Online at PheedLoop

Scope of the Workshop

The first International Workshop on Artificial Intelligence for Equity (AI4Eq) was held virtually and in Santiago de Compostela (Spain) in conjunction with ECAI2020. The focus of this workshop was to examine the role of AI science and technology in advancing towards the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals, particularly in the context of a mix of standard, policies, regulations, declaration and charters on both the Ethics of AI, Machine Learning and Big Data, and on Human rights, including the UN's own Global Pulse Initiative, UN rapporteurs reports on extreme poverty, human rights and modern slavery, the IEEE Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous/Intelligent Systems, the European Commission’s Ethics guidelines for Trustworthy AI, and the Montreal Declaration for Responsible Development of AI. The outcomes of this workshop were published as a special issue of IEEE Technology & Society Magazine.

This second edition of the AI4Eq Workshop proposes to build on the success of the first, but identifies three twists of perspective. Firstly, the workshop proposes not to focus so much on the development of AI technology itself, but on the societal impact and implications of that technology. For that reason, we are delighted that the second edition of the workshop will be held in association with ISTAS2021, the Flagship Conference of IEEE SSIT, the Society for Social Implications of Technology. The second twist of perspective is that rather than taking a sort of top-down, policy-oriented approach, we are proposing to take a sort of bottom-up, people-centric approach. The central question of system co-design (between the developers and the users) is then less about the ethics of the developers mandated by universal declaration than about the local empowerment of the users, and defining the opportunities, boundaries and guardrails that determine minimal and maximal rights to self-organisation and self-determination. The third twist of perspective is within those minimal and maximal rights, is to focus on issues of social justice, in particular the empowerment of marginalised communities and addressing asymmetries of power within the Digital Society itself.

In particular, this asymmetry of power within socio-technical systems, especially those involving AI, raises the prospect of an insidious threat which needs urgent attention. The issue of modern slavery has been identified by the UN as "the first human rights issue to arouse wide international concern yet it still continues today and slavery-like practices also remain a grave and persistent problem". In this workshop, we will particularly focus on what might be called "modern indentured servitude".

Indentured servitude is a form of labour in which one person is contracted to work for another until a debt is paid off: in its less unreasonable forms, it can support apprenticeships where students can learn a trade from a master professional; in its more dubious forms, it can act as a social filter by ensuring that access to desirable professions can only be achieved through unpaid internships which only the already wealthy can afford to accept; and at its very worst form the size of the debt rises faster than the ability to repay it and the indebted party can never escape. The aim of this workshop is to examine digital versions of indentured servitude, i.e. forms of indentured servitude which occur in the Digital Society, deliberately or as a degenerative unintended consequence, covertly or overtly, and/or because of an unethical misuse of Artificial Intelligence. Such degenerative consequences include, but are not limited to, surveillance capitalism and techno-feudalism.

The workshop will be organised around panel sessions addressing four inter-connected streams: well-being, youth, social care, and community. By raising awareness of the broad range of inter-disciplinary research and societal implications, we hope to help build towards not just sustainable development but also sustainable empowerment: a digital society which provides and protects the opportunity for and capability of all people to live and work together as free and equal citizens through the preservation of civic dignity.

Invited Speakers

The Workshop is pleased to present two distinguished invited speakers.

Josiah Ober (Stanford University).

Title: Human flourishing, servitude, and why they are incompatible.

Abstract: Following a line of thought associated with Aristotle, I define human flourishing as including (although not reducible to) the free and conjoint exercise of the constitutive human capacities of sociability, rationality, and complex communication through language. In political terms, this conjunction is why democracy is preferable to other forms of social organization. The servant, that is, a person whose activity is primarily determined by a master (aka "boss"), and whose choices are reduced to obeying the master (whether via direct orders or via accurately anticipating the wishes of the master) or suffering punishment, is denied that free and conjoint exercise. Servitude may be involuntary or chosen, but in most cases (I will consider exceptions) servants are harmed (Aristotle would say: their souls are corrupted) by the conditions of and through the exercise of their servitude. The wrongfulness of servitude is, therefore (among other reasons) its tendency to deny persons the opportunity to fully exercise their own humanity (Aristotle would say: to develop and practice virtue).

Katina Michael (Arizona State University)

Title: Technology’s Role in Modern Indentured Servitude in Business.

Abstract: The novel tools, techniques and online platforms that we are creating today are being used to foster a power asymmetry toward enslavement of vulnerable populations in a variety of business contexts. In this presentation, I discuss the various forms of modern indentured slavery by bringing together two theoretical approaches, systems of innovation on the production side, and sociotechnical systems on the application side to inspect the phenomenon. I will focus on a single case study of the taxi industry in the USA and how traditional processes have been impacted by the introduction of the online Gig economy since 2012. In doing so, I will use the framework established by Caruana et al (2021) incorporating interdisciplinary perspectives inclusive of supply chain management, human resource management, strategy, accounting, social issues in management, and marketing, couched within a historical context. I will demonstrate that humans- have been and continue to be- negatively impacted by the adoption of artificial intelligence in the taxi industry, and while some will claim the consequences were unintended, I maintain they were not only anticipated and avoidable, but calculated and cold.

By examining the relationships between direct and indirect stakeholders of the taxi industry toward a future trajectory incorporating autonomous vehicles, the long term effects of “disruptive innovation” will be questioned. The consequences of AI have meant the vulnerable have become even more vulnerable as a result of the Gig economy inclusive of: limited or no worker rights, low wages and the accumulation of major debts that cannot be repaid, supply and demand issues, corporate irresponsibility, rapid deregulation, poor public policy responses and much more. The injustices have caused many people anxiety, loss of financial stability, and a diminishment of one’s livelihood to varying degrees. Among the dire human impacts on Gig workers of whom over 90% are immigrants to the USA, are ongoing penalties related to loans, loss of housing and health insurance, illness due to long working hours to make ends meet, depression, and even suicide. In striving to understand why modern indentured servitude exists today, despite Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the presentation will conclude with a design exercise on the actions that could be taken for redress and restoration with an emphasis of the changing values necessary for business and society to thrive toward a common goal, that “no one shall be held in slavery or servitude” by other humans and their utilization of machines or data itself.

Workshop Schedule

The Workshop is divided into 4 sessions of panels, each focussing on AI and lived experience in respect of Modern Indentured Servitude.

Panel Session 1: AI & Senior Lived Experience.

Moderator: TBA (Affiliation).

  • Roba Abbas (University of Wollongong): The Co-Design of Location-Based Services (LBS) for Individuals Living with Dementia: An Overview of Present and Future Modes of Operation.
  • Jordan Miller (ASU): Social Robots: The friend of the future or mechanical mistake?
  • Todd Pittinsky (Stonybrook). Taking Care with Elder Care Robots

Panel Session 2: AI & Junior Lived Experience

Moderator: TBA (Affiliation).

  • Rys Farthing (Reset Tech): Out of the Coal Mines and into the Data Mines: Surveillance Capitalism and Children.
  • Joseph Savirimuthu (University of Liverpool): AI in the Classroom: We Don’t Get No Education.
  • Mina Vasalou (UCL). TBA

Panel Session 3: AI & Everyone's Lived Experience.

Moderator: TBA (Affiliation).

  • Thomas Dannhauser (Smart Start Minds): TBA.
  • Christine Perakslis (ASU): Converging Contexts leading to the Age of Allostatic Load (A-Load).
  • Agnieszka Rychwalska (Uniwersytet Warszawski). Shadow (profiles) in the Dark (patterns): who locked your Digital Self?

Panel Session 4: AI & Community Lived Experience

Moderator: TBA (Affiliation).

  • Allison Gardner (University of Keele): TBA.
  • Genevieve Lively (University of Bristol): AI Futures Literacy.
  • Regine Paul (University of Bergen) and Emma Carmel (University of Bath). Unravelling "digital common market" myths: the colonial political economy of AI governance in the European Union


Maria Tzanou

PC Co-Chair: University of Keele

Jeremy Pitt

PC Co-Chair: Imperial College London

Rui Cardoso

OC Chair: Imperial College London