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The dark side of smart machines

Workplace surveillance is not a novel concept.

Nevertheless, surveillance has expanded beyond basic timekeeping and employee profiling with the emergence of intelligent devices. Artificial intelligence and big data are currently revealing patterns of human behavior in the workplace that have never been closely monitored and analyzed.

Alexandra Suich Bass, the US technology editor at The Economist, stated that AI renders ubiquitous surveillance worthwhile due to the potential value of each piece of data.

Suich Bass is the author of the special report GrAIt expectations, which provides insight into the impact of AI on HR and other business sectors as it begins to affect industries beyond Silicon Valley.

Surveillance that is “Orwellian”

Suich Bass observed that contemporary workplace surveillance may appear Orwellian. In the present day, organizations employ a diverse array of metrics to monitor their employees, including the content of their social media profiles and the time they spend on breaks.

Even keyboard strokes can serve as indicators of dubious activity or inadequate productivity. Veriato, a software creator based in the United States, asserts that it is capable of capturing screenshots of a monitored PC, recording keystrokes, scanning emails, and detecting insider threats. Veriato employs machine learning to distinguish between normal and aberrant activity.

“Managers can exert extraordinary control over their employees through the use of AI,” stated Suich Bass.

Another illustration is the employee monitoring bracelet offered by Amazon. The United States retailer possesses two patents for a device that is capable of monitoring the hand movements of warehouse workers in real time and determining their location. The tracker is intended to serve as a time-saving device by emitting a beep when a worker approaches an incorrect item.

Evaluating contentment

Amazon has alternative methods of employee surveillance, despite the fact that the wristband is currently only a concept.

The company implemented a daily Q&A system in 2017, which is displayed on the computer screen of each employee at the commencement of their workday.

The topics encompass work-related issues, including employee satisfaction. Nevertheless, a dozen current and former employees who spoke with CNBC have expressed skepticism regarding the data’s anonymity and utility.

In the interim, the ‘happiness meter’, which was created by the Japanese conglomerate Hitachi, monitors an individual’s physical activity to ascertain their mood levels at work. Hitachi implemented wearable sensors to quantify employees’ satisfaction. One client discovered that the morale of teams was negatively impacted when youthful employees were required to participate in meetings that lasted for more than an hour.

Social interaction can also be quantified by extending a brief greeting to a colleague on a daily basis. Humanyze, a Boston-based software company that specializes in people analytics, has created an ID badge that is equipped with two microphones, an accelerometer, and sensors to monitor employee conversations.

According to Humanyze, the microphones are not designed to record the content of conversations; rather, they are designed to perform voice processing, which includes the detection of tone, volume, and speed. Managers have exclusive access to team-level statistics, as all data is encrypted.

“A workforce that is more productive and equitable is a prize that is worth pursuing; however, it is not worthwhile if it dehumanizes and enslaves employees,” stated Suich Bass. “Achieving a harmonious equilibrium necessitates deliberate consideration, a willingness to adapt on the part of both employers and employees, and a substantial amount of humanity.”