The AI Manager

One of the advantages of a computer is that it will handle repetitive tasks very well. That’s one reason the DevOps world pushes for automation of simple tasks, like compiling code or copying files between machines. We know the software will perform the task the same way every time, giving us a reliable, repeatable process. Even in many AI systems, the structure of the program ensures some level of reliability, though the actual actions or results may vary dramatically based on the inputs.

For some tasks, this is great. If we have a system watching for a change in code to rebuild the application, that’s certainly a job for a computer rather than a human. If a sensor needs to be checked and an action taken if it exceeds a value, certainly the watching ought to be done by software, though the actions may or may not be something we want a system to do without human input.

In some sense, I likewise think that the use of AI to manage workers is a bad idea. This was something I read about in Manna, which seemed exxagerated when I first perused the story. Now it seems that some of this is coming true in this story about workers in a call center being manager by an AI system. There is a software on their machines that tracks their activity, the way they interact with customers, and more. If there are potential problems, the software tries to give them messages about how to alter their behavior. Many employees aren’t bothered by this, but I wonder if that will be the case over time, especially if this software starts to affect employment and pay decisions.

I think this is micromanagement at a level I’d never want to work under. I know that some of these jobs are akin to factory jobs that make widgets, with employees doing the same thing over and over again. However, there also is some creativity and thought required, otherwise I’d assume an AI could just do the whole job. That might be coming, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it, but as long as humans are working here, there ought to be plenty of human oversight.

Could you see this in our industry? Maybe AI reminders that you’re slow to close a ticket, or not committing enough, or even that you’re not doing enough testing. It’s crazy to think that there could be software that companies use to manage developers and other technology staff.  My guess is most of you think this would be a poor idea, but I could see this becoming used in help desks and infrastructure at some point. If it works there, who knows what types of AI software might be deployed by companies.

Perhaps more worrisome for many is that if this becomes a trend, this might affect the middle management levels in companies more than workers. One manager might do the job of 10s,  or even 100s, which is its own societal implications if we use less people as supervisors. Maybe this would make for more efficient companies, and hopefully, less meetings. I don’t know if I think that’s a good evolution of software being used to manage a process.

Steve Jones

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