Emerging Technologies

How AI can close the care gap for working families

Mother and baby cuddling, enjoying paid family leave.

Parents can find it hard to navigate the benefits system to access paid family leave. Image: Anna Shvets/Pexels

Reshma Saujani
Founder and CEO, Moms First
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Artificial Intelligence

  • AI attracts a lot of attention as a world-changing technology, but so far it remains in the early stages.
  • AI tools can help by translating reams of policy information so new parents understand their entitlements to paid family leave.
  • When developing AI tools for things like parental benefits, involving the users – particularly if they are underserved sections of society – can create results.

At the first-ever Global Future Council on Care in Dubai last September, artificial intelligence was on everyone’s lips. Discussions of how AI can speed up scientific discovery, protect our planet, and raise global GDP – and how it could do so ethically and equitably – dominated the event.

In reality, much of today’s AI doesn’t aim that high. We have tools that can find Waldo, write Harry Potter fan fiction, and compare your voice to Freddie Mercury’s. But when it comes to helping people who need it most, our technology is woefully far behind. But by creating better AI now, while the technology is still in its relatively early stages, we can build tools that do satisfy these lofty aims, while also helping working families get the support and care they need.

Many governments already provide these resources and often it’s just a question of helping vulnerable communities take full advantage of them. Just look at paid leave benefits in the US: there’s no federally guaranteed paid family leave, but 13 states and Washington D.C. do have such benefits. For some, however, they’re just too confusing to access. An estimated one million people every year search the internet to find out what their paid leave benefits are. Even if they find the right sites, they usually have to navigate dense legal jargon.

An AI tool helps parents work out their paid family leave entitlements.
An AI tool helps parents work out their paid family leave entitlements. Image: MomsFirst.us

Dont give up on benefits of paid family leave

The reality is that many people simply give up. These are parents who can barely find a moment to themselves, let alone hours to comb the internet or wait on helplines. It’s no surprise, then, that low-income families, single mothers, and communities of colour are disproportionately impacted by this barrier. These are the exact constituencies that both most need paid family leave and are less likely to have it provided by their employers.

Worse, when parents give up, they’re often punished for it. If policymakers are looking to cut budgets, they evaluate which programmes are best utilized. If people aren’t taking advantage of paid family leave, those benefits will wind up on the chopping block. The cumulative result is that across the country, nearly one in four new mothers go back to work within two weeks of giving birth.

That’s why earlier this month, Moms First – a movement to put mothers first in a country that often puts us last – rolled out PaidLeave.ai, a tool to help New York parents access their paid leave benefits. We hope, one day, to expand it across the entire country.

PaidLeave.ai can turn an overwhelming mass of government paperwork into a simple, user-friendly guide. Parents tell the chatbot where they’re at by providing the baby’s expected due date, whether the caregiver is working full- or part-time, whether they’re coordinating leave with a co-parent and so on. They can also ask the bot questions, and it understands many different languages.

Making AI work for everyone

This tool is just the beginning. It builds on the success of New York City’s MyCity Business AI chatbot, which helps people start and grow small businesses by delivering trusted information from more than 2,000 web pages. And we’ll likely see this kind of tech more and more in 2024: in October, more than 100 mayors attended Bloomberg CityLab’s session about how to better use AI to help constituents – whether by helping residents access city resources, or even predicting the impacts of natural disasters.

We also have to remember that investing in these tools goes hand-in-hand with expanding AI’s user base. Right now, only 35% of women are using generative AI tools like ChatGPT in their jobs, compared to 48% of men. In all likelihood, that gap will continue to grow.

That is, unless we design tools explicitly for these underserved communities. For many people, women especially, using PaidLeave.ai will be their first time experimenting with generative AI firsthand. But hopefully, it won’t be their last.

Have you read?

To be clear, AI is not without risks, from perpetuating harmful stereotypes to eliminating jobs (particularly women’s jobs) and concerns about data privacy.

But if we are going to build trust in AI among people who have never used these tools before, then they must participate in designing and building these AI solutions. Moms First heard directly from mothers in New York about the challenges they faced when trying to access paid family leave. We urge our public sector partners to develop use cases of their own to lessen inequality across the board.

Our organization may be one of the first to design AI with working families in mind, but we hope others will follow.

A version of this article was published in TIME Magazine on Tuesday, December 5, 2023.

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