This Robot Could Soon Be Your Boss
Despite vast changes in automation over several centuries, there’s little evidence that technology harms human labour.
The long-feared vision of robots lording over jobless masses has always struck us as unlikely.
After all, there are billions more people today than there were during the Industrial Revolution. And yet, somehow, we’ve managed to find jobs for most of them.
In truth, automation does displace jobs.
But most jobs taken off the market through automation are replaced by others, sometimes in entirely new industries.
Of course, a handful of people will be caught out by a shortage of skills necessary for these emerging new roles. But that’s always been the lay of the land. Society doesn’t stand still to make sure everyone keeps up.
So don’t hold your breath for a robot invasion. It’s not coming anytime soon.
If, and when, a robot does take your job, provided you’re not retired already, you’ll likely be doing a job that doesn’t yet exist.
Still, despite our indifference towards the impact of automation, we’re not comfortable with every aspect of it.
In particular, we admit to feeling a little uneasy by what’s happening at computing manufacturer IBM.
And if you think robots are a threat to your job security, you’ll want to sit down for this one.
It’s one thing to fear a robot taking your job. It’s another matter altogether to have your performance evaluated by one.
Yet that’s exactly what IBM has implemented in its workplace.
IBM uses a technology called Watson Analytics. That name may ring a bell. You may recall Watson famously competing on the US game show Jeopardy! in 2011, beating out two former champions.
Watson Analytics is the continuation of IBM’s research into AI.
Best of all, it’s wasting no time working its way up the corporate ladder.
Meet your new performance evaluation adviser
To see how, imagine you’re sat across from your manager at an annual review.
Just a single sheet of paper separates you.
That piece of paper is the sum of everything you’ve done in the past year. It shows how you’ve matched up against expectations, and whether you’ve gained any new skills in that time.
There are no grading scales to circle. Just Watson’s data.
Using this data, your manager decides whether you’ve earned the right to a bonus, pay rise or even promotion.
Of course, Watson does have its limitations. It can only measure performance by using data from IBM’s internal training system which, at 60 hours per year, is far broader than your average workplace.
However, Watson does something even more amazing (or scary, depending on your view). It can project how well you’re likely to perform in the future.
If you’ve ever seen Minority Report, you’ll know all about ‘precognitive ability’.
In the film, police use psychic beings to predict crimes before they happen.
It’s scary to think about. The idea that an algorithm can assume how you’re likely to perform in the future and influence decision-making at management level is laced with moral ambiguities.
Then again, employers make decisions about workers on little more than gut feel all the time. Is this any better than the alternative? We may have to find out the hard way.
On the upside, Watson does do something that could become a real boon for employers. It can evaluate potential candidates based on their experience and body of work.
Using this data, Watson can advise on whether candidates have the desired skills and qualities to fit the company. Such a tool could boost hiring by giving employers greater confidence in taking on candidates they may otherwise feel are risky.
What’s more, employers frequently bemoan that skillsets in the workplace are fast becoming outdated. What you know tomorrow is becoming more important than what you knew yesterday.
IBM can anticipate and prepare for this better than most companies as Watson factors in skills the company may need in the future.
This may explain why, according to a survey by Willis Towers Watson, more than 40% of companies are looking at implementing performance reviews that take into account future potential and skills.
It may not go by the name of Watson, but the worker of tomorrow will likely be answering to their very own ‘iBoss’.