The Ethical Implications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) For Meaningful Work

Journal of Business Ethics (4):1-16 (2023)
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The increasing workplace use of artificially intelligent (AI) technologies has implications for the experience of meaningful human work. Meaningful work refers to the perception that one’s work has worth, significance, or a higher purpose. The development and organisational deployment of AI is accelerating, but the ways in which this will support or diminish opportunities for meaningful work and the ethical implications of these changes remain under-explored. This conceptual paper is positioned at the intersection of the meaningful work and ethical AI literatures and offers a detailed assessment of the ways in which the deployment of AI can enhance or diminish employees’ experiences of meaningful work. We first outline the nature of meaningful work and draw on philosophical and business ethics accounts to establish its ethical importance. We then explore the impacts of three paths of AI deployment (replacing some tasks, ‘tending the machine’, and amplifying human skills) across five dimensions constituting a holistic account of meaningful work, and finally assess the ethical implications. In doing so we help to contextualise the meaningful work literature for the era of AI, extend the ethical AI literature into the workplace, and conclude with a range of practical implications and future research directions.

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Paul Formosa
Macquarie University