A new study out of MIT shows that robot bosses are preferable to human bosses. The goal of the researchers was to analyze how comfortable people were working alongside a robot. Surprisingly, most people in the study preferred the robot to be in charge.
A good boss is essential to a happy workplace, and everyone knows that a bad boss can make a job untenable; but what if the boss were a robot? The research found that an autonomous robot that used algorithms to schedule work and assign tasks seems preferable to a fickle human manager. In addition, people would rather perform the task at hand than spend valuable time and energy creating schedules.
The study was carried out by the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Project lead, Matthew Gombolay, a PhD student at CSAIL, clarified that a team of cyborgs was not going to sweep in and take over the workplace. Robots are nowhere near that level. Instead, it means that tasks are scheduled, delegated and coordinated by an algorithm written by humans prior to the robot participating on the job. Gombolay emphasized, “Instead of coming up with a plan by hand, it’s about developing tools to help create plans automatically.”
The MIT study formed teams of two humans and one robot. Their job was to follow directions to assemble a model out of Legos. In the first trial one of the humans directed the work. In the second trial the robot directed the humans. In the third trial one human directed himself and the robot directed the other human. The trial in which the robot took charge of how the work was to be performed was the most efficient. Furthermore, the human participants said they preferred working when the robot controlled the mundane parts of the task. The people said they felt that the robot understood them better.
Even advanced robots cannot understand a human. They do not have feelings so they cannot empathize. What the participants in the study most likely felt is that the robot listened, considered all information from all sources, and made objective decisions. Some experts have explained that in today’s business world the men and women who rise to the top managerial positions are not always the best bosses. According to the research, these bosses are good at thinking on their feet and have savvy business instincts, but that does not always make them the most fair and considerate supervisors. Rather than one person scrambling to figure out the best process for a task, the people in the study appreciated the robot running a complex algorithm to apply the best solution.
When people worry about losing jobs to automation they most likely fear the hands-on, blue-collar jobs will be the first to go. MIT’s study may show that it would be more efficient to automate managerial positions. Robots could make better supervisors than most people, they claim. Objectivity during information processing is a skill many human bosses lack. Robot bosses could streamline production without irritating workers.
Can humans let robots run the show in the workplace and still retain control? Many people believe that the advent of artificial intelligence will doom the human race to irrelevance. No person wants to be a slave to a machine or to have an elite class of AI robots rule the world; but, as those who have a terrible boss knows, sometimes it would be nice to have a perfectly objective, efficient machine making workplace decisions.
The MIT study shows that robot bosses are preferable to human bosses; however, the participants were not assigned a task that required creativity and ingenuity. Their job required planning and efficiency. They found that in that particular study setting, letting a robot direct the task made the work more productive and enjoyable.
By: Rebecca Savastio