Recently there has been discussion about the capabilities, limitations, and even dangers of artificial intelligence (AI) in the workplace. We know that robots and computers have already replaced workers in a variety of jobs–especially in routine work such as manufacturing, data analytics, and customer service. Automation can do many of these jobs more quickly and efficiently than can humans. We tend to think, however, that higher-level jobs, such as those of supervisors and leaders, are too complex, or require a “human touch” and so are less likely to be replaced. But perhaps, in the near future, managers and leaders may be the next to be replaced by AI. Does that sound far-fetched?
Well, I just finished a spate of projects working with managers, professionals, and human resources leaders, and a common complaint is voiced about the upper-level decision-makers to which these people report. Many of these very competent professionals complain that their bosses ignore, or refuse to implement, best practices.
For example, one engineer told me that her boss resisted purchasing state-of-the-art design software, even though everyone in the engineering department (perhaps even including the boss) knew that this would lead to greater productivity and better quality work and save the company lots of money. Why the resistance? The boss didn’t fully understand the new technology and was afraid of losing control. In another instance, an HR professional’s boss refused to use best practices in evaluating workers’ performance, and that same executive often ignored using readily available and informative data in decision making. In still another case, a compliance officer’s boss was seemingly threatened by (or perhaps jealous of the subordinate’s competencies) and wouldn’t allow the officer to improve and streamline some areas of operation. What is common in all of these examples? The leaders were biased and influenced by their own personal limitations and insecurities. In short, they were too human!
How might a robotic or AI system leader behave differently and better?
The AI leader would not feel inadequate, intimidated, or threatened. The AI leader would simply be fed the pertinent data from the subordinate(s), analyze it, and make the best possible decision (and in these cases, the correct decisions were readily apparent). The AI leader would not play political games and would only respond positively to a subordinate’s accomplishments and achievements. In short, the AI leader would behave the way an effective leader should behave–objectively, fairly, relying on data, and on best practices.
Will this happen? Will higher-level bosses be the next to be replaced by automation? Probably not in the near term, partly because the decisions to replace will be made by humans.
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