Your Next (AI) Boss
The idea of an Artificial Intelligence that manages a workspace to optimise the workspace has been an idea ever since the dawn of the field itself but never has it ever been widely used, however, this could be changing as we proceed into the future.
130,000 workers in the United Kingdom and abroad are keenly scrutinized by a newly emerging artificial intelligence called the Isaak System. The system monitors workers and their actions, quantifying each individual employees' attributes, finally to rank them.
To accomplish this, the system harvests data from emails, calendars and file histories, to figure out which employee is talking to which employee, whom they're meeting, when they're meeting and what they're doing. Scrutinizing each action to finally compute their final productivity and labelling that employee with their score.
Status Today, the firm behind designing the system is just one of the companies in a wider industry-wide trend on managing people with AI. This could potentially lead to distrust in the system since decisions by the systems could potentially seem arbitrary or bad but hard to argue against since the system can take into account more factors than the average human boss.
Currently, the system just gives bosses a general overview of your performance and collaboration, for example, it could tell your boss you are a positive influence on the workspace or it could also say that you are wasting your time, one conclusion might lead to a pay rise but the other could lead to you potentially losing your job; all of this being decided by a computer and it is unlikely you have any idea how it works.
In the corporations that use this system to permanently analyse employees, which include a few law firms, an estate agency and a training company, employees do not automatically possess the permission to see the data harvested by Isaak since it is owned by the employer or their "score" calculated in real time.
However, some other firms use Isaak for short term analysis of their employees rather than to continuously scrutinize each movement over their entire career at the firm claimed Status Today.
Critics of the system claim that there is a risk that comes with pressuring employees into working harder and harder to raise a number that their boss sees. Employees may skip breaks or vacations because they don't want that number to dip below a certain value fearing losing their job. Additionally, the number can easily be used by bosses to pressure employees into overworking themselves if the boss sets a high bottom limit to the score. However, there is also a potential detriment to corporations if they do this, creative thought can be seen as an inefficiency to the system since it takes time away from actual work meaning the rate of innovation is decreased which hits both the corporation and the economy in the long-run.
At the University of Hertfordshire, Ursula Huws who is a professor of labour and globalisation stated that performance targets and your progress being quantified by AI will "only multiply the pressure". She went onto give the example of the thinking employee: "People are deemed not to be working if they take their hands off the keyboard for five minutes. But they could be thinking, and that doesn't get measured". Although, if this was measured, then the workspace becomes an even scarier place where each moment is captured by a camera and examined by a program.
According to Ursula, this poses a threat to the mental health of employees since they could be discouraged from taking breaks and relaxing for even a moment simply because their score could take a hit that may put you in a greater risk to lose your job.
Nevertheless, Status Today claims that the 1 billion actions that they have gathered are used by the system to accurately pinpoint the tasks an employee could excel at, answering one of the basic economic questions of how resources should be allocated. They also allocate in a way to improve mental health and spread responsibilities evenly to "ultimately improve the overall workplace environment" and "reduce stress and overworking".
Experts have called this the "precision economy" in which more and more aspects of life are constantly monitored to get more and more data to optimise all aspects of life. This technique is a mirror of one used in sports, where a massive improvement can be seen in a sportsperson by improving every aspect of their life by a minute amount, a humongous amount of tiny betterments can lead to a big overall improvement in their performance. However, experts claim this will lead to an economy where you can only get a job if your score passes that of a high threshold set by the most hardworking employees in the company, and those with lower scores will be barred from most high paying jobs.
This system can also be replicated by life insurance companies, they can potentially monitor all factors of your life by placing devices on you, that determines if you deserve a low rate of insurance by harvesting as many factors of your environment as possible and passing it through a mega AI that decides everything for them, potentially with a higher accuracy than trained humans in the industry.
The CEO of Status Today, Ankur Modi, states that his system aims to provide a wellbeing report of each individual employee to detect overwork and hopefully avoid it, however, he admits that there is a risk that it can be misused and ignored by employers and this is a very real risk that poses their product. It is possible that employers only focus on productivity and wellbeing goes completely out of the window.
Other AI ideas include a facial recognition software that can calculate employee mood, devices to monitor employees location, and last but certainly not the least, a device which is currently in use in a variety of Chinese companies that goes around the head of an employee and measures how the employee is feeling, all passed to the boss to see who is truly enjoying the job and worth keeping. The Trades Union Congress surveyed workers and unsurprisingly found that workers were opposed to all of these measures.
The general opinion is that workers want to be trusted to do their jobs; this high tech approach to optimising the workplace creates distrust and slowly chips away at the morale of employees, potentially causing more harm than good. However, different approaches to technology that can be potentially seen as "dystopian" can suddenly be seen as "good" depending on the implementation of the system and this is just one potential implementation of your next (AI) boss.