Veteran trade union leader Thampan Thomas has called for a joint effort to ward off the perceived ill-effects of artificial intelligence (AI) on the labour class. He was here on Saturday to open a debate on ‘Artificial intelligence and the challenge to jobs’, organised by the Kerala Union of Working Journalists.
Describing the development of AI as the “fourth industrial revolution”, he pointed out that its impact on humankind could be devastating.
“The labour class organised themselves in the form of trade unions as a response to the challenges posed by industrial revolution, such as exploitation of humans by the capitalist class. That approach will have to be changed completely when it comes to AI,” said Mr. Thomas. Earlier, most challenges pertained to the treatment of labourers. With the implementation of AI, most jobs might vanish as microchips and artificial brain will replace them. He had recently attended a conference of the International Labour Organisation, which discussed the implications of AI on labourers.
Mr. Thomas, the former national president of the Hind Mazdoor Sabha, also criticised the trade union leadership in the country, who, he said, meekly submitted to the demands of neo-liberal economic policies. The ruling class had believed that money would trickle down to the deprived sections once those policies were implemented. “In the name of structural adjustment, many trade union leaders themselves opted for voluntary retirement and the staff strength in factories came down significantly. Steps such as mechanisation and automation also led to large-scale job losses. Ultimately, it did not help the poor,” he said.
If the trade union leadership adopted a similar attitude towards AI, it would be detrimental to the interests of the labour class, Mr. Thomas claimed.
“Today, the capitalist class is not using its own money to maximise profits, but they are dependent on the share capital. They have control on governments too. If they get to control data, it will have disastrous consequences for humankind,” he added.