By Atty. Eduardo T. Reyes III
Labor Day is coming up on May 1. It is redolent of the issue concerning the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) that seems to permeate every human endeavor. Thus the swirling question: how much of human labor must be replaced by AI?
Advanced forms of AI can do human resource work by suggesting the hiring and firing of employees and recommending promotions. ChatGPT, a chatbot powered by OpenAI, can solve logic puzzles and make computer codes. AIs are also being pushed by certain startups to replace accounting, medical and legal work.
Should humans be worried?
We should be.
It could be argued that ever since the laissez-faire policy (ie, policy of utmost freedom in setting the terms and conditions of a contract) was set aside by jurisprudence, governmental regulation had become pervasive in terms of interfering with “subjects as collective bargaining, security of tenure, minimum wages, compulsory arbitration, the regulation of tenancy as well as the issuance of securities, and control of public services. So it is likewise under the Republic this Court having given the seal of approval to more favorable tenancy laws, nationalization of the retail trade, limitation of the hours of labor, imposition of price control, requirement of separation pay for one month, and social security scheme”. (Edu v. Hon. Ericta, G.R. No. L-32096 October 24, 1970).
Under our present Labor Law, an employer may terminate an employee on the ground of “redundancy”, ie, when the functions of the employee are replaced by a computer. In Que v. Asia Brewery, Inc., G.R. No. 202388, April 10, 2019, “redundancy” was defined as follows:
“[r]edundancy exists when the service of an employee is in excess of what is reasonably demanded by the actual requirements of the business. A redundant position is one rendered superfluous by any number of factors, such as over hiring of workers, decreased volume of business, dropping of a particular product line previously manufactured by the company or phasing out of a service activity formerly undertaken by the enterprise”.
Inevitably, when AI starts invading more working areas in the company, human labor is also being eased out.
As Labor Day will be celebrated on May 1, it would be opportune time for the employer and the employee to go back to the negotiating table and reckon the advantages of human labor over AI and recalibrate the terms and conditions of work.
And for the government regulators, rethinking the viability of veering too much from the laissez-faire policy could perhaps be a solution to the threat of AI invasion in the workplace.
Allowing the employer and the employee more room to maneuver in ascertaining how best to avert AI’s takeover of what used to be work performed by humans would be a step in the right direction.
Work that requires “empathy” would surely be irreplaceable by algorithms or computers.
Then again, all kinds of work require some empathy either for the employer, fellow employees, or the work itself.
Even this humble piece of work, it is profoundly human. Each word comes with a heartbeat. The rhythm is in sync with this writer’s pulse rate. And on balance, the thoughts go out to all the laborers, workers or employees who know the value of work.
In the end, human labor is still more valuable.
To some extent, perhaps, we can rely on robots; but assuredly, we cannot sacrifice the human touch to sheer insipid expediency of AIs.
(The author is the senior partner of ET Reyes III & Associates– a law firm based in Iloilo City. He is a litigation attorney, a law professor and a law book author. His website is etriiilaw.com).