My Boss is an Algorithm!

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Story: How do you feel about your boss being an algorithm? The algorithm can promote or “deactivate” you based on continuous data assessment. Hopefully this excerpt from a recent article in the NYT by Alex Rosenblat will get you thinking. This is happening now!

There are nearly a million active Uber drivers in the United States and Canada, and none of them have human supervisors. It’s better than having a real boss, one driver in the Boston area told me, ‘except when something goes wrong.’

When something does go wrong, Uber drivers can’t tell the boss or a co-worker. They can call or write to ‘community support,’ but the results can be enraging. Cecily McCall, an African-American driver from Pompano Beach, Fla., told me that a passenger once called her ‘dumb’ and ‘stupid,’ using a racial epithet, so she ended the trip early. She wrote to a support rep to explain why and got what seemed like a robotic response: ‘We’re sorry to hear about this. We appreciate you taking the time to contact us and share details.’

The rep offered not to match her with that same passenger again. Disgusted, Ms. McCall wrote back, ‘So that means the next person that picks him up he will do the same while the driver gets deactivated — fired by the algorithm — because of a low rating or complaint from an angry passenger. ‘Welcome to America.’”

Key Point: The biggest complaint employees have is usually about their bosses, the real live human ones, let alone digital ones. Yet, however imperfect, at least most of us have someone to appeal or talk to as a boss. I’m a big fan of AI/machine learning and big data helping employees to increase productivity or effectiveness. And an algorithm may be more objective and programmed to be more helpful than human managers. What I have serious concern about is if employers begin to remove any human connection from an employment relationship for scale and cost reasons. Uber drivers are people first. It is too convenient and I think irresponsible for organizations to consider people as simply “gig-economy transactions.” Like the NYT article notes, “It’s better than having a real boss… Except when something goes wrong.

Leading Yourself Moves:

  1. Become more aware where algorithms are replacing bosses and what that means to the world of work.

Leading Others Moves: 

  1. Invest in people leadership. And argue for leadership to be augmented by AI, rather than before being fully replaced by algorithms. Unless a person is working exclusively for themselves, I hope we always have a “boss” we can talk to; even if they are predictably imperfect.

Real People in Personal Leadership,

Lorne

One Millennial View: It’s crazy to think that due to the enormous amount of content uploaded to YouTube, the company has no choice but to filter it with algorithms. Fortunately, YouTube videos just live online and aren’t cruising down real life roads. I understand why companies like Uber choose to employ algorithms instead of salaried bosses, but when things do go wrong with actual humans, when will the road get too bumpy for a machine to properly drive the situation? 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis