When Machines Outrank Humans

It’s National Boss’s Day, when we naturally start thinking about … our robot overlords.

It sometimes seems as though there are so many things that can go wrong with machinery that we don’t really need to worry about having to answer to robot bosses. They’d have heatsink over temperature faults and shut themselves off before they got around to having any effect on us.

Still, there has been some research on the question of how people behave with robot bosses. So far, international studies suggest that cruel robot overlords get the greatest efficiency out of human workers.

There are problems with the research. For example, the most famous study on whether humans like robot bosses had a positive outcome when a robot scheduled and delegated tasks. In the context of the tasks they were working on, though, scheduling was more a virtual assistant’s job than a boss’s job. It qualified as a dull and irritating task, not as a creative and powerful one.

Another example, a recent French study which saw better performance on a task when that task was supervised by a “mean” robot, was actually a case of supervision by a robot who gave friendly answers, like “I think we could be friends” compared with a more aloof robot who allowed as how it didn’t value friendship. The task required concentration, not creativity or knowledge, loyalty or skill. Is it possible to extrapolate from this situation to real world worker efficiency? Maybe subjects were distracted by thoughts of what a robot might mean by “I think we could be friends.”

The truth is, we already know what it’s like to have robots directing us. Whether it’s the algorithm that suggests our next movie or the electronic helper that tells us to put our seat belt on or get ready for bed, electronic devices boss most of us around a lot. We have some control over what they tell us to do, just as someone would have to program our robot bosses. But our emotional responses to machines are similar to our responses to humans,

Harvard Business Review suggested that robot managers could be an improvement over human managers, but mostly just because humans beings are often bad at being managers.

If you’re the boss, accept our congratulations, and Happy Boss’s Day! Here’s your chance to look like an awesome boss: store our phone number, 479-422-0390, in your phone. If you ever have a problem with your Rexroth electric drive and control machinery, call us first. You’ll have your facility back up and running so fast that you’ll be a hero to all the humans in the place.

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