Podcast Ep 176: We ask Workday‘s Chandler Morse – an expert in AI policy – what needs to be done from a regulatory point of view as AI enters the workplace.
Morse talks to the ThinkBusiness Podcast about the company’s rapid expansion in Ireland and addresses how AI and automation will work when it comes to HR and people management.
Workday is a US-headquartered financial and capital management software business with revenues north of $6bn per annum. In 2008 the business acquired Iona co-founder Annrai O’Toole’s Irish software business Cape Clear Software.
“Although there’s quite a few uses that we leverage AI for, I think the one that’s most exciting and that resonates most with people in Workday is recognising the benefits of this technology to unlock human potential”
In Ireland, Workday employs 1,800 people, with approximately 70% of those working in product development and engineering.
Chandler Morse serves as vice president, public policy, and leads corporate affairs for Workday
Morse was in Ireland recently for the creation of a new chair of Technology & Society at Technological University Dublin.
The first of its kind in Ireland, this seven-year commitment will see the creation of a new pioneering research unit in Grangegorman, examining the intersection of technology and society, across topics ranging from AI to STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths).
Recruitment will commence shortly for the chair role and eight additional roles, including five PhD students and three staff members. Workday is providing €2m in funding to support this initiative.
I ask Morse about how AI recently seemed to explode in importance thanks to the opening up of ChatGPT and what it means for Workday as a business.
“I think your points well taken about AI receiving quite a bit of scrutiny lately, but it’s not particularly a new issue for many of us. So Workday has been looking at AI technology in our product suite for over a decade. And for the most part, although there’s quite a few uses that we leverage AI for, I think the one that’s most exciting and that resonates most with people in Workday is on recognising the benefits of this technology to unlock human potential. And for the most part, the way that that gets expressed is we are we are all-in on a skills based approach to employment, we think we think leveraging technology like AI to really take a skills-based approach to employment to scale is essential.
“And that skills-based approach does a ton of positive things, it helps companies and employees be more agile, respond to changes quicker.
“It levels the playing field a little bit when it comes to opportunity, it increases the opportunities that folks have access to on a little bit of a faster timeline. So from our view, again, its not necessarily a new issue, it is something that’s been around for a while and been talked about for a while.
“But the application of AI in a responsible way, in elevating skills, is essential to taking it to scale. It can really take it from something that folks have thought about to something that can be really implemented economy-wide.”
Asked if he sees privacy ramifications emerging from the onset of the AI age, Morse believes that the fundamentals of privacy are in place already thanks to regulations like GDPR.
“The regulatory regimes around data privacy are mature. GDPR has been around for years and been implemented and really reflects in our view of a smart and nuanced way of handling issues around personal information and data privacy. That has also been reflected in the US [although] not necessarily in a comprehensive way like GDPR, but certainly there are regulatory regimes around the use of personal information and keeping that data private. And of course, we’ve also seen states in the US really take a hold of that issue. So in many ways, I would make sort of the opposite point, which is when these new and emerging technologies come out, and there’s sort of a proliferation of them, we have we have instances where regulatory regimes have been stood up fairly quickly and fairly thoughtfully to deal with the challenges. I think we’re in very much the same situation. Certainly I think we are seeing a proliferation of AI into different issue areas. And I think that’s really sort of supercharging the policy conversations.
“You know, Workday has been involved heavily in thinking about and laying the groundwork for smart safeguards around AI. We really do view AI as having the potential for unlocking human potential, but then also there can be unintended consequences associated with that.
“So we do firmly believe that there should be smart safeguards around this technology. And we’ve been laying the groundwork for that since 2019.
“I think recent news cycles have certainly driven more of an emphasis on this, which to be honest, we welcome. And it really also coincides with Europe hitting a pretty major milestone when it comes to the EU AI Act, the parliament voting to adopt their amendments.
“So I think I think, you know, there are going to be a range of issues that are going to have to be addressed. And there’s going to have to be a bunch of thinking done about how we put in place smart policies that that both build trust and support innovation. But we have done this before. And I would say I would say successfully.”
Crucially, Morse said that Workday views AI as a technology that can help humans to make decisions.
“In some ways we think that assistance in decision making can help reduce some drudgery in tasks, maybe make some tasks more efficient and really unlock people’s ability to do higher level, more effective work maybe more efficiently.
“We view it as additive, if done correctly, and done ethically and done smartly and responsibly, and, and frankly, done with some safeguards or regulatory safeguards that we think are needed, we think it supercharges people.”