The Daily DeX 06/28/2019: Working For The Algorithm

Today’s Daily DeX: From The New York Times comes another dispatch from the slow robot apocalypse

+“A Machine May Not Take Your Job, but One Could Become Your Boss” | The New York Times | Kevin Roose

“Mr. Sprouls and the other call center workers at his office in Warwick, R.I., still have plenty of human supervisors. But the software on their screens — made by Cogito, an A.I. company in Boston — has become a kind of adjunct manager, always watching them. At the end of every call, Mr. Sprouls’s Cogito notifications are tallied and added to a statistics dashboard that his supervisor can view. If he hides the Cogito window by minimizing it, the program notifies his supervisor.

Cogito is one of several A.I. programs used in call centers and other workplaces. The goal, according to Joshua Feast, Cogito’s chief executive, is to make workers more effective by giving them real-time feedback.

“There is variability in human performance,” Mr. Feast said. “We can infer from the way people are speaking with each other whether things are going well or not.”

The goal of automation has always been efficiency, but in this new kind of workplace, A.I. sees humanity itself as the thing to be optimized. Amazon uses complex algorithms to track worker productivity in its fulfillment centers, and can automatically generate the paperwork to fire workers who don’t meet their targets, as The Verge uncovered this year. (Amazon has disputed that it fires workers without human input, saying that managers can intervene in the process.) IBM has used Watson, its A.I. platform, during employee reviews to predict future performance and claims it has a 96 percent accuracy rate.”

–>AI replacing you is one thing. AI replacing your boss is a new development in the slow robot apocalypse. Primarily, it’s a clear signal that software is adapting to the new realities of work more quickly than wetware. The pace of this development seems gradual and benign. Indeed, quotes from workers suggest as much. (“There were no protests at MetLife’s call center. Instead, the employees I spoke with seemed to view their Cogito software as a mild annoyance at worst. Several said they liked getting pop-up notifications during their calls, although some said they had struggled to figure out how to get the “empathy” notification to stop appearing. (Cogito says the A.I. analyzes subtle differences in tone between the worker and the caller and encourages the worker to try to mirror the customer’s mood.)”) However, I detect a deeper disruption at play. Whereas robots simulate human labor, we now have humans simulating AI. In managing worker behavior, boss programs will also manage our acceptance of AI as a new, more productive addition to the work experience. And in doing this they will ultimately teach us how to be managed by software. After this, having harvested worker as well as customer data, only one more step is needed. If algorithmic bosses can manage us better than we can manage ourselves, how short a leap will it be to convince us that they can do our jobs better than we can?  

Further reading:

+“How Amazon Automatically Tracks and Fires Warehouse Workers for ‘Productivity’” | The Verge | Colin Lecher

+“Rise of Robots Could Eliminate 20M Manufacturing Jobs by 2030” | UPI | Nicholas Sakelaris

+“Autodesk CIO Says AI Helps Human Worker Productivity” | The Wall Street Journal | Sara Castellanos

+“The Robots Are Coming for Wall Street” | The New York Times |Nathaniel Popper


Where are your hammers for these nails?

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Image Source: Image by Markus Spiske from Pixabay

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