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August 02, 2018 Thursday 04:19:29 PM IST



Pranav did the graveyard shift takingcalls fromAmerican customers. The salary from the call-centre job was just about enough for him to pay off his monthly EMIs and live in Mumbai. When the firm decided to go in for automation, Pranav lost his job. It wasn’t surprising because that was the shape of things to come. But today there is a higher-order automation, cerebral if you will, that is insinuating itself into the scheme of things — and that is Artificial Intelligence (AI).

In 2017, organisations shelled out around $20 billion on AI-related mergers and acquisitions, about 25 times more than in 2015. The McKinsey Global Institute has predicted that just by implementing AI inmarketing, sales, and supply chains could generate economic value, including profits and efficiencies, of $2.5 trillion over the next 20 years. Atop official of Google says AI will do more for mankind than fire or electricity!Of course, such grandiose forecasts kindle anxiety as well as hope. Many worry that AI could destroy jobs faster than it creates them.

Using AI, managers can gain astonishing control over their employees. Amazon has introduced a wristband that captures the hand movements of warehouse workers and uses vibrations to prod them into being more efficient. Workday, a software firm, has identified around 50 elements to predict employee turnover.

Humanyze, a start-up firm, sells smart ID badges that can track employees around the office and disclose how well they network with colleagues. There is nothing new in surveillance at work. Factory workers have long clocked in and out and managers can already see what idle workers do on their computers. But AI makes pervasive surveillance worthwhile, because every bit of data is potentially valuable.


Let us look at the benefits. AI is expected to enhance productivity. Humanyze blends data from its badges with workers’ calendars and e-mails to work out, say, whether office designs support teamwork. Slack, a workplace messaging app, facilitates managers measure how rapidly employees accomplish tasks.

Organisations will see when employees are not just dozing off but are also being unruly. They are employing AI to lookfor anomalies in expense claims and screening receipts from graveyard shifts more proficiently.

Employees stand to gain from AI. Thanks to strides in computer vision, AI can check ifemployees are wearing safety gear and that no one has been injured on the factory floor. Some individuals will encourage more feedback on their work and welcome a sense of how to do better.

Cogito, a start-up, has created AI-integrated software that listens to service calls of the customers and allocates an “empathy score” based on how empathetic employees are and how fast and how adeptly they settle complaints.

AI can make sure that pay hikes and career advancements go to those who deserve them. That starts with hiring. Individuals often have biases but algorithms, if designed appropriately, can be more unbiased. Software can identify patterns that people might ignore.

Textio, a start-up that uses AI to enhance job descriptions, has found that women are more inclined to reply to a job that mentions “developing” a team rather than “managing” one. Algorithms will spot variances in pay between genders and races, as well as sexual harassment and racism that human managers intentionally or unintentionally overlook.

Yet AI’s benefits will come with many potential shortcomings. Algorithms can have unintended consequences since they are not of the biases of their programmers. The length of a commute may forecast whether an employee will quit a job, but this focus may involuntarily harm poorer applicants. Elderly employees might adopt a slower pace of work compared to younger ones and could risk losing their positions if all AI looks for is productivity.

And surveillance may feel Orwellian—a delicate matter now that individuals have begun to question to what extent do Facebook and other tech giants know about their private lives. Organisations are starting to monitor how much time workers spend on breaks.

Veriato, an IT company, goes to the extent of following and capturing every keystroke workers make on their computers in order to evaluate how dedicated they are to their firm. Companies can use AI to examine through not just employees’ professional communications but their social-media profiles, too.


Some individuals are better placed than others to stop employers going too far. If your services are in demand, you are more likely to be able to resist than if you are easy to replace. Blue collar employees in low-wage industries such as retailing will be particularly susceptible. That could fuel a renaissance of labour unions seeking to represent employees’ interests and to set norms. Even then, the choice in some jobs will be between being replaced by a robot or being treated like one.

As policymakers and employers weigh the pros and cons of AI atthe workplace, the use of AI ought to be transparent.

Employees should be well informed about what technologies are being employed attheir workplaces and whatsort of data are being collected. As a matter of routine, algorithms used by companies to hire, fire, and promote should be tested for bias and inadvertent consequences. Companies should also let individuals request their own data, whether they are ex-workers wanting to challenge a firing, or job hunters expecting to prove their mettle to potential employers.

The spiralling growth of AI atthe workplace calls for trade-offs between privacy and performance. An unbiased butmore efficient workforce is a reward worth having, but not if it curbs and dehumanises human capital. Striking the right balance will require deliberate thought, an inclination for both employers and employees to adapt, and, most of all, a solid dose of humanity.

Dr. Manu Melwin Joy

The writer is an Assistant Professor at School of Management Studies, CUSAT

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