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It’s likely you have multiple interactions with AI that you aren’t even aware of on a daily basis. Artificial intelligence has embedded itself in some of the most widely used consumer technologies on the planet without many consumers even noticing. So it should come as no surprise that artificial intelligence is infusing modern office spaces with enhanced capabilities. 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 that a company performs at its highest potential. Following this definition, the future of business looks extremely bright. AI can streamline operations and help businesses become more efficient than was ever thought possible. This is thanks to advanced data collection and analysis that will give CEOs the tools to increase productivity by an estimated 40 percent or more by 2035. As technological progress continues to defy expectations, a complete overhaul of the work sphere seems increasingly likely.
AI is boosting productivity…
AI-based supervision is far from science fiction — in fact, it’s already a reality. Perpetual tech forerunner Hitachi touted an 8 percent increase in productivity in select warehouses where the company has 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 soon prove useful in health care, transportation, and virtually every other industry.
For better or worse, your boss is responsible for ensuring that your time at work is spent productively. In this area, AI can perform remarkably well. Tech company Veriato specializes in employee management software that monitors all computer use, Big Brother-style. Its 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 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 most companies’ efficiency goals by streamlining processes without expensive audits and assessments. But in transferring these responsibilities to a piece of software, companies run the serious risk of losing the human touch that distinguishes the best bosses.
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 really 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.
On the other hand, great bosses are rare, and with software solutions already able to accomplish a surprising amount (and capabilities seemingly growing by the day), AI could replace toxic bosses that hold workers back. 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’re currently standing midstream in the AI revolution. Whether this is good or bad is irrelevant — it’s happening whether we like it or not. The adoption of these technologies will be determined by one factor: Do they improve the bottom line? The answer will hinge on the numbers, not any uneasiness about the replacement of humans in specific tasks. Does the boss-employee relationship seem poised for improvement via AI? As is 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.
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