Artificial Intelligence: In What Ways Does AI Turn Up in the Social Work Practice Ecosystem? An Exploration

In social work, we generally don’t “cover” topics of artificial intelligence very centrally in our educational or practice literature, though a few brave social work researchers. practitioners and activists have done so. We tend to talk about it more generally – which is a good start but not enough from where I sit. Futurist Leah Zaidi says that the role of artificial intelligence is one of the three central necessary foci of futures work right now (the other two being equity/justice and climate change). I’ve covered this topic a few times on this blog – no meaningful exploration of the future could leave it out. I spend a lot of time imagining the implications – both positive and negative that could come about as a result of these powerful tools. And truly, they are both optimistic and pessimistic in equal measure. Learning to be open to both the opportunities and the dangers requires some discipline.

As part of the Social Work Health Futures Lab effort, I decided it was time to pull ALL the things together and try to do a bit more comprehensive scan than I’ve done in the past. That said, even though this is expansive – I’ve only skimmed the surface and will continue to build it out (along with my colleagues).

The framing questions are:  Where is AI turning up in the areas of practice relevant to social workers, how is it being discussed in these contexts, what narratives are being advanced (and if there is a dominant narrative – what is the counter narratives?) and how do we use this information to advance ethical, equitable and science-based practice/action in this deeply complex practice space?  What does human behavior in the social environment mean in the context of AI? How will AI shape the future of social work…and how will social work shape the future of AI?

Social work has a WIDE expanse of practice locations.  Our professional ecosystem ranges from individuals (micro practice) to work in government and policy (macro practice), and everything in  between.  Social workers frequently work at numerous levels of human service-related systems throughout their careers.  Thus this scan is equally expansive.  No matter where we work, we are united in our commitment to ethical, equity- and justice-centered human and community well-being.    

I don’t think I’ve ever done one single review that combined such a WIDE variety of topics. I guarantee that scanning it yourself will leave you a bit breathless with the expanse and may surprise you with the sheer number of ways AI shows up in our social work landscape. You may laugh, you may be surprised, you may be worried, you may be even more curious. What will we make of it?

This resource list is dedicated to AI literacy for social workers everywhere.  The future is here. I believe how we shape what happens next is up to us, and is an urgent ethical imperative.

Take a look here!!

(Addition 3.6.2021 – Created an infographic to bring these ideas to life!!)

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