Chief Robot Officer

robot managerMuch of the talk right now is about how robots (by which everyone really means AI-powered automation software) will eat away at the heart of the workforce – eroding those white-collar, transactional, repetitive jobs that have been the mainstay of the Western service economy for the past 20 years. One thing that is mentioned less, though, is the impact on the managers of those people. Of course, with less people to manage, there will be less demand for managers.

But robots still need managing, right? In a recent twist though, we are starting to see the automation of the manager’s role itself. This is not that surprising if you think about it: much of the work that a manager does is the scheduling, planning and reporting of tasks that their subordinates to do. These are activities that AI is well suited to carry out, and, in fact already does: there is a website design company called B12 that uses a system called Orchestra to manage its team of human and robot developers. As this article from Quartz makes clear, “human designers, client managers, and copywriters still do much of the work—but they don’t coordinate it.” This is done by the Orchestra software.

In another example, 60,000 software testers at Rainforest are managed by an AI system. Most of those people are part-time ‘crowd sourced’ workers (only 100 are full-time employed) which makes them perfect for automated management. The system allocates work and monitors performance: higher performers are given more work than poorer performers. The system also manages the recruitment process and helps train the workers.

Of course, the robots will not be able to do everything that a manager typically does, especially when it comes to using softer skills, but that simply means, just like the rest of the automatable jobs, that the human managers can focus on the stuff they do well whilst the robots get on with the more tedious stuff. This is certainly an area that will evolve over time and one that I imagine I will be coming back to again in the near future.

(This article first appeared in my newsletter, That Space Cadet Glow, which you can subscribe to here).

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