Professor Antonio Aloisi, Assistant Professor at IE Law School has been awarded by the European Commission the prestigious and highly competitive Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship for the project: BOSS EX MACHINA, "Mapping and Understanding the Technological Transformation of Managerial Prerogatives in Workplaces Driven by Machines, AI and Algorithms."
Machines, artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithms are reshaping work and power relationships in a large number of fields, with far-reaching legal and societal consequences. To give an example, workers can receive detailed directions from an automated system, be constantly monitored by a GPS tracker and dismissed for not achieving the goals set by an algorithm measuring the average targets and the clients’ level of satisfaction. Cyber-physical devices make it possible to implement new practices of organizing, executing, monitoring and evaluating employees’ performance – in each and every industry. These tools determine a “genetic mutation” of prerogatives legitimately exercised by bosses. While such technologies have the potential to create a flexible environment by fuelling organizational competitiveness, they can be deployed indiscriminately and irresponsibly, jeopardizing workers’ rights and undermining labour regulation.
Governance by algorithms and workforce analytics, namely the methods aimed at running a business in a hyper-efficient and productive way thanks to robots and software, are salient instantiations of new evidence-based human resources and intensive management practices, which can be lumped together under the definition of boss ex machina, a modern calque from the Latin expression “god from the machine”. Since the policy implications are deep and wide-ranging, the present fuzziness could increase uncertainty and make companies vulnerable from a legal standpoint. Little attention has been devoted so far to the digitization of the employers’ key functions. In short, what is still missing is a thorough mapping exercise of new applications of boss ex machina and a concomitant impact assessment of the existing normative systems in a selection of European countries.
This project is an attempt to fill these gaps, in order to build a pragmatic dialogue between business experts, tech entrepreneurs and lawyers (not only labour law specialists). The research investigates the various practices enabled by the latest generation of digital devices, understood in their full definition as encompassing both physical supports, such as wearables, assistive tablets and exoskeletons, and intangible instruments such as software, apps and platforms. Their transformative power hinges on how they are redefining the (power) relationship between contractual parties at the workplace, and it will be strongly affected by regulation or the lack of it. Assuming that this genetic mutation is neutral, the theory will explain how the risk of excessive control can be mitigated to deliver authentic autonomy, personal development and genuine flexibility.
This work will be qualitative in nature and adopt an innovative and pragmatic approach, by reviewing concrete examples where these modern practices have been implemented. It is based on an integrated methodology, both descriptive and analytical. Professor Aloisi will collect a number of cases showing how the tech industry, social partners and policy-makers are addressing this phenomenon; then, he will consider the impact of new technologies of digitized management on contractual templates, labour regulation and social institutions. Finally, he will examine if and how the EU legal framework can accommodate these models without stifling innovation. The resulting theory will serve as a regulatory fitness and performance study to evaluate policy interventions recently put forward by several institutions. Although firmly anchored in the employment law domain, the legal analysis will posit itself at the crossroad between disciplines
This project aligns with the European Commission approach to artificial intelligence and robotics, the multiple initiatives taken by EU institutions in the context of the Pillar of Social Rights aimed at building a sustainable future of work, and the several actions currently being developed by international organizations such as the International Labour Office and the Organization for the Economic Cooperation and Development. The research’s scope is also in line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals of ensuring inclusive and sustainable growth related to decent work.
The results of this study could have broad implications for academia, the tech industry and policy-making. They will be relevant for business experts and entrepreneurs as well as for associations of workers and business representatives. The research will classify the various experiences of a digitally-enabled managerial prerogatives and offer a catalogue of regulatory and contractual templates that can integrate new models of workplace organization. Various sources demonstrate that labour market institutions can affect the propensity to innovation, as long as reliable safeguards and negotiating channels are put in place. In the end, the overarching goal will be to promote and govern sustainable digital ecosystems where high-quality employment and competitiveness are mutually reinforced thanks to adaptive labour regulation.
This project builds on Antonio’s previous research on the evolution of employee monitoring practices in workplaces, including profiling and solely automated decision-making. At the same time, it represents a broadening of the scope of his interest in the individual and collective dynamics of platform labour. While platform-mediated work can be seen as a site of experimentation, its most advanced aspects are spreading much more extensively. This project grapples with how best to regulate changing managerial prerogatives in order to nurture innovation, uphold competitiveness and ensure job creation. In particular, it aims to offer a significant, accessible and “ready-made” contribution on digital trends from a labour law perspective that could be used and expanded by scholars from different disciplines to advance their parallel studies.
IE has a long and successful tradition in winning this grant. Indeed, Antonio is the 8th IE Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow, and the institution has two active fellows.