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How artificial intelligence changes New Zealand work, jobs

Artificial intelligence is changing how New Zealanders work. More change is on the way. An Otago University report looks at the main effects and suggests ways of reducing damage.

The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Jobs and Work in New Zealand takes a broad look at the subject.

There’s a lot in the report. If you have time, it’s worth a read. It covers controversial areas like AI being used for workplace surveillance.

Elsewhere it looks at what work should and should not be delegated to chatbots.


It’s a balanced view. Yes, there is uncertainty about what AI means for jobs. Authors Professor James Maclaurin, Professor Colin Gavaghan and Associate Professor Alistair Knott say there are plenty of ways things could go badly, leading to widespread harm, unfairness and discrimination.

Yet they remind us it doesn’t have to be bad.

The authors talk about enabling AI which works alongside humans; “increasing efficiency, productivity and potentially incomes”.

This is as opposed to displacing AI which pushes workers into low paid work with technology taking on high value tasks.

Who gets to dominate?

It’s a big question which one gets to dominate in New Zealand and whether the benefits happen here or if they end up making Microsoft and Google shareholders richer and the rest of us poorer.

Maclaurin talks about the dangers of artificial intelligence increasing inequality and making high value work scarce.

He says the most promising way of dealing with this is to shorten the working week. Remember from the productivity report how we’re already working more hours than everyone else, so we’ve plenty of room to move here.

“Experiments here and overseas suggest that office workers can often maintain productivity despite dropping to a four-day week.”

Government support

Knott, who works in the computer science department, says: “To ensure this, New Zealand government should support local AI ventures.

"Companies in the social media space, offering targeted local products, are especially to be encouraged — particularly if they implement higher standards of privacy and transparency than the multinational platforms currently do.

"Government might even invest in such companies, as it did when setting up Kiwibank to compete with offshore banking concerns.”

There are useful practical recommendations including:

  • We encourage government to acknowledge Māori and Pasifika perspectives on work-life balance in evaluating New Zealand’s response to AI.

  • In the face of an uncertain future, New Zealand must discourage over-specialisation in education. Education and training at all levels must equip young New Zealanders with a broad array of the skills and expertise required for an AI driven world.1

  1. This is vital. Too often we hear our economy needs STEM education and that’s the end of the story. In truth, the humanities are every bit as important and will be more so as AI takes on more and more work.

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