Technology and work: Osgoode professor co-authors book that offers new regulatory roadmap

3d rendering robot

The title sounds like something from a recent sci-fi thriller: Your Boss is an Algorithm. But for a growing number of workers, that futuristic scenario is already a grim reality, says Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Valerio De Stefano.

Valerio De Stefano
Valerio De Stefano

Stefano is the co-author of the book with Antonio Aloisi, assistant professor of European and comparative labour law at IE Law School in Madrid, Spain. The book was released July 14 by Hart Publishing, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing, under the full title, Your Boss is an Algorithm: Artificial Intelligence, Platform Work and Labour.

“The impact of technology in the world of work is increasingly important,” said De Stefano, who was recently named Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Innovation, Law and Society. The Tier 2 CRC is valued at $600,000 over five years.

“Artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithms are shaping the way work is done in all sectors and occupations and affecting blue- and white-collar jobs,” he added. “This presents us with new challenges that must be adequately tackled by regulators, labour unions, scholars and the broader public.”

According to a publisher’s summary, the book draws on examples from the United Kingdom, the European Union and the United States to examine how the world of work has been transformed by the growing prevalence of robots, algorithms and online platforms, including Uber, Door Dash and Instacart. De Stefano and Aloisi also look at the regulatory options available and propose a new regulatory roadmap for the era of radical digital advancements.

Your Boss is an Algorithm book cover
Your Boss is an Algorithm book cover

Throughout the book, the authors tackle critical issues at the intersection of work and technology today, including how societies can address the pervasive power of AI-enabled worker monitoring, the likelihood that the gig-economy model will emerge as a new workplace paradigm, and whether or not legal frameworks can balance worker protection with business innovation and flexibility.

“Technologies should make our lives easier, but the ones we are seeing adopted in today’s workplace put the human at the service of the tech rather than the other way around,” said De Stefano. “In the last section of the book, we advance a series of proposals for a future-proof labour law.”

The book was deliberately written to be accessible to the average reader, he said, adding, “We want everyone to understand the issues at stake, the challenges involved and how to tackle them.”

The rise in remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic has made the issue of employee monitoring even more controversial. Ontario recently passed legislation that makes it the first province to legally require companies with 25 or more employees to inform workers how and why they’re being monitored. But in a recent Osgoode podcast, De Stefano argued that the Ontario law does not go far enough to protect workers.