Artificial intelligence advances by leaps and bounds for HR management

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This article was written and published in Spanish and has been translated into English via Google Translate. Click here to read the original article.

This control or supervision is taking place in several areas of the companies, and in business verticals as well as human resources, or, more specifically, in customer service in call and contact centers.

When customer service representative Conor Sprouls, who works at a telephone center of the insurance giant MetLife, talks on the phone with a customer, he carefully watches the lower right corner of his screen. In a small blue box, appear indications that gives an artificial intelligence function.

If you speak very fast, the program displays the icon of a speedometer to tell you to speak more slowly. If it sounds sleepy, the software sends an "energy signal", symbolized by the image of a coffee cup. If you lack empathy, a heart appears on the screen.

For several decades, human beings have imagined a frightening future in which an army of hyper-efficient robots invades offices and factories and begins to perform the work that was previously entrusted to human beings. However, by concentrating on the fear that artificial intelligence would take the place of the workers, we did not consider another possibility: that it also replaced the bosses.

Sprouls and the other care center employees who work in his Warwick, Rhode Island office still have many human supervisors. However, the software responsible for the images that appear on your screen (created by Cogito, an artificial intelligence company in Boston) has become a kind of assistant manager who does not take your eyes off them.

At the end of each call, the notifications that Cogito shows Sprouls are added and added to a statistics dashboard that your supervisor can review. If you minimize the Cogito window to hide it, the program notifies your supervisor.

Cogito is just one of the many programs that apply artificial intelligence that are already used in call centers, among other places. Its purpose, according to the executive director of Cogito, Joshua Feast, is to get employees to do their job more efficiently thanks to the feedback they receive in real time.

"Human performance is variable," explained Feast. "From the way someone talks to another person, we can infer whether the communication is working or not."

The goal of automation has always been efficiency, but in this new workplace style, artificial intelligence considers humanity itself as the aspect it must optimize. Amazon leverages very complex algorithms to track the productivity of employees in their order processing centers and can automatically generate the necessary documents to fire those who do not meet their goals (Amazon has refused to fire employees without human intervention, with the argument that managers can intervene in the process).

Also, emerging companies apply to these programs. Cogito, which provides services to large insurers such as MetLife and Humana, as well as financial and retail companies, claims to have twenty thousand users. Percolata, a Silicon Valley company that has clients like Uniqlo and 7-Eleven, uses sensors in stores to calculate a "true productivity" score for each employee, and classifies them from the most productive to the least productive.

Administration by algorithm is not a new concept. At the beginning of the 20th century, Frederick Winslow Taylor revolutionized the manufacturing sector with his theory of "scientific administration", whose objective was to eliminate the inefficiency of the factories by means of a strict measurement of the times and movements of each aspect of the work. More recent examples are Uber, Lyft and other custom-made platforms that have earned billions of dollars because they leave computers in charge of conventional human resources tasks (payroll and performance evaluations).

However, applying artificial intelligence to manage workers when it comes to conventional jobs with hours from 9 to 17 has caused more controversy. His critics have accused companies of applying algorithms for administrative tasks and point out that automated systems can create a dehumanized environment and unfairly punish employees. In addition, while it is clear that executives have access to artificial intelligence applications to follow up on the tasks assigned to employees, their advantages for employees are not so obvious.

In the economy of sporadic jobs, management by algorithm has also been a source of tension between workers and the platforms that connect them with customers. This year, the drivers of Postmates, DoorDash and other delivery companies to order protested the method of calculating their payments, because the algorithm groups the tips given by customers with the guaranteed minimum wage, an almost invisible practice for drivers because that the platform confuses the details of the payments made to them.

No one protests at MetLife's call center. Rather, the employees I spoke with seemed to consider their Cogito software as a slight nuisance, in the worst case scenario.

Several stated that they liked to receive notifications during calls, although several commented that they found it difficult to know what to do so that the "Empathy" notification would stop appearing (according to Cogito, the artificial intelligence system analyzes subtle differences between the voice tone of the employee and the user, and the recommendation for the employee is to try to reflect the mood of the client).

MetLife, which uses the software with 1,500 employees in its call centers, said that thanks to the application, customer satisfaction has increased by 13 percent. "It really does change the behavior, without people even noticing," explained Christopher Smith, director of Global Operations at MetLife. "The interaction becomes more human."

In any case, it is undeniable that the fact that an artificial intelligence program watches over a group of workers and tells them how to relate to other human beings produces a chilling sensation, as if we were in a science fiction movie.

Taking advantage of artificial intelligence to correct human bias is positive. However, as more artificial intelligence uses are adopted in the workplace, executives will have to resist the temptation to take advantage of it to further control employees and subject them to constant monitoring and analysis. If that happens, those who organize an uprising will not be robots, said La Nación.

This article was written and published in Spanish and has been translated into English via Google Translate. Click here to read the original article.

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Simon Baker is the Founder and Executive Chairman of Online Marketplaces and Property Portal Watch. Involved with property portals for 15 years, he’s a well-recognized expert and industry consultant.
As former CEO/MD of the REA Group for 8 years, Simon led the group to its current market-leading position. When he joined REA Group in 2001, it had $4m in revenues, $6m in losses and an $8m market cap.
By 2008, the company presided over $155m in revenues, $35m in EBITDA and enjoyed a peak market cap of $1b. Simon is currently Chairman of the Mitula Group and Real Estate Investar and a serial portal founder and, investor.