It’s likely you have multiple interactions with AI on a daily basis that you aren’t even aware of. Artificial intelligence has embedded itself in some of the most widely-used consumer technologies on the planet without many consumers even noticing. That being said, it should come as no surprise artificial intelligence is infusing modern office spaces with enhanced capabilities as well. Business-focused AI will take the boss-employee relationship in an interesting direction, and the transformation process is already underway.
The function of a boss, at its essence, is to ensure a company performs to its highest potential. Following this definition, the future of business looks extremely bright. AI can streamline operations and help businesses become more efficient than ever thought possible. This is thanks to advanced data collection and analysis that gives CEOs the tools to increase productivity by an estimated 40 percent or more by 2035. As technological progression continues to defy expectations, a complete overhaul of the entire work sphere doesn’t appear to be out of the question.
AI is upping productivity…
AI supervisors are far from science fiction — they’re already a reality. Perpetual tech forerunner Hitachi touted an 8 percent increase in productivity in select warehouses where they’ve installed “robot bosses.” These AI programs allocate tasks and identify new strategies for accomplishing them. They also have the ability to adapt to a variety of changes on the fly. Hitachi hopes the information its robot bosses gather now will be of use in healthcare, transportation, and virtually every industry in the future.
For better or for worse, your boss is responsible for ensuring your time at work is spent productively rather than wasted. In this area, AI can perform remarkably well. Tech company Veriato specializes in employee management software that monitors all computer use, Big Brother-style. Their AI logs all activity on company computers and can analyze this data to determine who’s spending extra time on work and who’s goofing off. It can even measure morale through a close reading of emails and messages.
Some might consider productivity-enhancing technologies like these to be a violation of privacy, but the truth is, on company time, everything you do that isn’t work-related costs the company money. It’s logical that employers would utilize AI solutions to ensure all employees spend their time actually working.
…But it still can’t crack communication
Surveying the current landscape, it appears AI can help meet the efficiency goals of most companies through streamlining processes without expensive audits and assessments. But in converting these responsibilities to a piece of software, companies run the serious risk of losing the human touch that makes the best bosses shine.
Like any relationship, good workplace relations are founded on strong communication. The most effective bosses are able to motivate their employees through flexibility and a nuanced understanding of how to balance workers’ needs with company directives. AI is decades away from solving these holistic challenges, even in the most optimistic projections.
We’re still a long way from building an AI that satisfies all the nuances of effective human communication, but even if such a technology were perfected, could it also satisfy all employee needs? It’s difficult to imagine an encouraging pep talk coming from an AI boss, at least at this point. Even the most advanced communication program of 2017 doesn’t have the understanding of context and nuance that a talented manager does. Many bosses will tell you that their job is about understanding the needs of their employees, something that technology is far from replicating.
On the other hand, great bosses are rare, and when software solutions can accomplish as much as they do (with capabilities seemingly growing by the day), toxic relationships won’t hold workers back from performing their jobs. An AI boss might not be able to pat you on the back after a job well done, but it also won’t make inappropriate comments or waste time with misguided directives.
Where things are headed
We stand midstream of the AI revolution, that much cannot be denied. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is irrelevant — it’s happening whether we like it or not. The success of these technologies will be determined by one factor: do they improve the bottom line? The answer will be determined by the numbers, not any uneasiness generated by the elimination of human thought from decisionmaking. Does the boss-employee relationship seem poised for improvement via AI? As always the case with software, it depends on the programming.
Dave Rocker is managing partner of the Rocker Group, LLC., a management consulting firm specializing in analytics, compliance, and planning.