For decades, American workers have worried about automation and robotics taking their jobs. Yet while fretting about artificial intelligence replacing replace rank-and-file workers, The New York Times reports, we may have overlooked the possibility it will also replace the bosses.
When Conor Sprouls, a customer service representative in the call center of insurance giant MetLife talks to a customer over the phone, he keeps one eye on the bottom-right corner of his screen. There, in a little blue box, A.I. tells him how he’s doing.
Talking too fast? The program flashes an icon of a speedometer, indicating that he should slow down. Sound sleepy? The software displays an “energy cue,” with a picture of a coffee cup. Not empathetic enough? A heart icon pops up.
The software on their screens—made by Cogito, an A.I. company in Boston—has become a kind of adjunct manager, always watching them. At the end of every call, Sprouls’ Cogito notifications are tallied and added to a statistics dashboard that his supervisor can view. If he hides the Cogito window by minimizing it, the program notifies his supervisor.
Cogito is one of several A.I. programs used in call centers and other workplaces. The goal, according to Joshua Feast, Cogito’s chief executive, is to make workers more effective by giving them real-time feedback.
“There is variability in human performance,” Mr. Feast said. “We can infer from the way people are speaking with each other whether things are going well or not.”
The goal of automation has always been efficiency, but in this new kind of workplace, A.I. sees humanity itself as the thing to be optimized. Amazon uses complex algorithms to track worker productivity in its fulfillment centers and can automatically generate the paperwork to fire workers who don’t meet their targets, and IBM has used Watson, its A.I. platform, during employee reviews to predict future performance and claims it has a 96% accuracy rate.