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AI and the future of Social Work

I’m fairly new to LinkedIn.

I don’t think I quite understand the virtual etiquette. I like the idea of ‘connecting’ with people, because in a room it’s quite likely I would say hello and introduce myself.

The alternative of simply 'following' someone around isn’t quite as appealing. But I digress.

The second time I logged into the platform, I saw an article about artificial intelligence, or AI.

I clicked and read, which led to said AI now constantly promoting AI articles in my newsfeed.

Naturally (or unnaturally) it’s got me thinking a lot about the topic.

I’m not the most technologically advanced person. A website, podcast and mailing list is just about manageable after 12 months, but I’m really interested in the way artificial intelligence is now a huge part of our lives.

Social work isn’t widely linked with technological advancement. There are some recent developments in the use of virtual reality and a variety of different apps to meet social worker needs, but I'm also sure that if you listen carefully, the echoes of ‘the system isn’t working’ can be heard far and wide across local authorities in the UK.

I think social workers (even those ill equipped with technical knowledge like me) need to talk about AI, how it can and will change the way we work, and how we can work ‘with’ it, rather than be ‘done to’. Otherwise I wonder if it has the power to oppress us the way we and the current systems oppress the people we aim to work alongside.

I’ve mostly been reading about chat GPT, a language processing AI model which generates human-like text. It’s fascinating and scary at the same time.

Could AI solve social worker’s problems?

Social Worker’s are overloaded and one of the biggest barriers to them doing person facing work is usually time and workload (caused by huge underfunding and under resourcing I should add).

Could we see a future where AI writes assessments and analysis?

Could conversations be recorded and automatically transcribed to avoid miscommunication and the conflict that comes from it?

Could dangerous or oppressive language be edited and replaced in seconds?

Could research and theory be inputted so AI can connect the two with practice?

I’m not saying that any of this should happen, but it’s all possible and it’s probably not too far away for us.

So what should we be mindful of?

Chat GPT produces based on input. If we are looking to a future alongside AI, what we input matters.

Chat GPT produces racist responses and is gender biased. Like any AI, it will become a representation of the people who create it.

Does this mean we should ignore it? I don’t think so.

I like to think of the possibilities of input.

AI could be informed by children, young people and adults who are care experienced. The data inputted could be the direct narrative of parental advocacy groups.

If we want to truly create change then the people we need to contribute to AI are people who are part of the global majority.

Could AI replace social workers?

There are many jobs that can be replaced by machines. I do wonder how much this will apply in the future of social work. After asking Chat GPT a few basic questions, I’m hopeful that we still have a role to play in supporting change.

Why? Well I asked Chat GPT to explain a social work assessment to a 6 year old child.

Part of the response: to make sure you are safe and happy.

I took a sigh of relief. When I was a new social worker I used this phrase until I was helpfully supported to rethink. Since then I have understood I cannot promise happiness to a child or young person. The word ‘safe’ means different things to different people and the work we do is so complex; safety and happiness should never be considered equal.

We might be waiting a little longer for AI to develop nuance, interpretation and understanding.

This is why I think we should embrace AI. It’s not coming, it’s here.

But it has limitations and its limitations are our strength as social workers (and humans).

We have a human connection. We can share all kinds of spaces. We can show and hold empathy with our presence. We can laugh, cry, feel what we need to and share it with people.

And it's probably idealistic but I wonder if AI has the potential to help us do more of that in Social Work.

*This article was written by me and not a chat bot (or was it?)

As a self confessed technophobe this is simply me putting my thoughts down to share. If you are reading this and you know more than me about the subject (which won’t be hard), please get in touch. I’d love to hear more and as they say on linked in ‘connect’.



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