AI In the Workplace – Should Employees Fear Management Automation
If you somehow managed to get a hundred of the brightest business minds to answer a question about 3 trends that will shape the world of business in the next decade or so, you would probably get 201 different answers.
The math behind this number is that they would all give two different answers and one on which they would all agree – intelligent automation. Accenture’s 2016 Technology Vision report more or less confirms this.
Intelligent Automation By Any Other Name
Depending on whom you talk to, intelligent automation will have various names and it will be advanced to a various degree. Some people, like the former general manager of IBM’s Watson project Manoj Suxena talk about artificial intelligence (emphasizing the difference between intelligence and consciousness) as not only a business concept, but a world-changing inflection point.
Others, like Panorama, a BI company whose past work makes the basis of Microsoft’s analytics software in the last 20 years, work in the other direction – that of advanced business intelligence which utilizes dark data.
Other sources speak of deep learning, machine learning, cognitive computing and so on. All of them revolve around the same concept which entails computing systems which make decisions based on processes that resemble intelligence.
The Sum of Employees’ Fears
It goes without saying that moving towards AI and automation makes employees around the world anxious about their future. This is by no means a modern fear. In the 19th century, textile workers in England were so worried about losing their jobs to newly-introduced machines that they actually rebelled and the military had to be deployed in order to deal with them. They were the original Luddites which gave name to people who refuse new technologies.
Everyone but the most oblivious can understand what huge leaps in automation and AI will do for a huge number of jobs. The goal of every company in the world, among other things, is to reduce the costs of operation and if this can be achieved by replacing employees by AI systems, they will do it. Not everyone is this pessimistic, but it would be completely naïve to think automation will not hurt the employees in one way or another.
What About Managers?
That being said, it is not only the employees who might get replaced. Managers might meet the same fate in the future, at least according to some people. In 2015, Devin Fidler of the Institute for the Future wrote for Harvard Business Review about the prototype software they worked on called iCEO which attempted to automate high-level management processes. They ran pilot programs for sales, hiring, quality assurance and project management, among other things.
While the software was still in its early days back in 2015, it is not that difficult to imagine a future where similar software manages entire departments in large companies. Before long, smaller companies will start using such software too.
Due to the increased complexity and high risks, management automation will probably require more time and technology perfection before it can be implemented, but it is definitely something that we can look forward to.
Employees Affected by Management Automation
We now complete the circle and come back to employees who are somehow always on the receiving end of every novelty in the world of business technology. Naturally, they will be just as affected by management automation. But, in what ways?
For one, it will be very difficult to explain to an automated management “entity” certain extenuating circumstances that might have impeded your completion of a certain task. It will take a long time before any kind of “management AI” will be able to properly process such complaints.
It is also very hard to imagine this new management intelligent software being very in tune with interpersonal relationships within a certain workplace. Even human managers often find it difficult to handle conflicts and other interpersonal events the right way. For a machine of some kind, this will be even harder. Management still has a lot to do with how people interact with one another and it will take a long, long time before any kind of management AI can handle this in a satisfying way.
On the other hand, management AI will also be free from some very human flaws. For example, it will not show any bias and it will be perfectly democratic when assigning tasks. Most employees will see this as a positive. Furthermore, management AI will be able to put the right people on the right tasks, ensuring that no one feels like their talents are wasted or that they are being put in front of an insurmountable tasks.
In essence, it management automation will be a mixed bag for employees.
Barring any tremendous leaps in technology, it will be some time before we see management automation becoming widespread in the workplace. Once it arrives, it will have both good and bad effects on employees.
What begs the answer is whether there will be any employees left to manage by the time management AI rolls out?
Nate Vickery is a business technology expert and a futurist mostly engaged in finding and implementation of the latest technology trends into SMB and startups management and marketing processes. Nate is also the editor-in-chief at a business oriented blog- Bizzmarkblog.com.