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Technological inventions requires an honest public service

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The technological developments are coming with ethical concerns in terms of people working from home for the public sector, says Public Service and Administration Minister, Ms Ayanda Dlodlo.

“As workers are allowed to increasingly integrate their home and work lives through devices that are used for both private and work, including using work time effectively, what are the ethical challenges that then arise?

“The increasing hybrid nature of remote working, the rollout of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the workplace, changes in workforce composition and where the public sector increasingly resembles the private sector and vice-versa, provides opportunities and ethical challenges,” she said. 

Speaking at the inaugural Future of Work Indaba that wrapped on Tuesday, Minister Dlodlo said the leading ethical challenge for the public service relates to legal and regulatory requirements that often lags the rapid pace of AI technology, leaving a gap in policy formulation.

Minister Dlodlo said the public service should therefore, be agile enough to fill this vacuum by proactively providing governance where technology and the workforce intersect.

The Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (“4IR Commission”), has made progress in assisting the public service to identify and leverage opportunities presented by the 4IR, as well as identifying relevant policies, implementation strategies and monitoring and evaluating initiatives to position South Africa as a competitive global player.

According to the Minister, the DPSA and SITA should therefore, work faster in ensuring that the lessons learnt and resolutions of the Commission find expression in the work of public servants.

“In doing this we should ensure that we assess both the fairness and equity of technology as it has been proved especially in the private sector of increasing discriminatory bias. Procedures should also be put in place to ensure compliance with the POPI Act to protect the privacy of worker and the public’s data, however, the ability of government to mine that data and use it to improve service delivery should be enhanced.

“It is important to understand how AI and big data can be used to play a supportive function in more effective decision making. We need to be mindful of the evolving social contract between the individual and the government, and the government and society.

“The changing nature of the composition of the workforce as we recruit younger officials to join the public service that services a younger and more-younger population which demands instant gratification should reflect this new social contract,” she said.

“We are told that in the near future, we will see the rise of “gig workers” who are only interested in their technical work and not the entire administrative bureaucracy. We need to ensure that the Regulations for fair management practices and standards for this workforce segment are clearly defined,” she said.

Deputy Minister Dr Chana Pilane-Majake described the Indaba as the beginning of a milestone that will change the way the government works. “This should also enable us to build a capable, ethical and a developmental state which will accelerate the removal of red tape within public service and thus providing goods and services faster for our people.

“This future of work will not be possible without incorporating elements of the fourth industrial revolution which are predicated around nano technology, artificial intelligence and robotics. Digital transformation as well as digitisation should inform the very concept of the future of work,” said the Deputy Minister.