Published 8 years ago.
About a 6 minute read.
After my book, Hacking Happiness, was released last year, a lot of people got in touch wondering how they could help their employees get happier at work. My book focuses on how people should take a measure of their lives, utilizing emerging technology and positive psychology to increase their long-term wellbeing versus just their mood.
When anyone is genuinely interested in increasing employee happiness, I'm encouraged. But more often than not, people are primarily focused on how the benefits of positive psychology will increase people's productivity for the company versus how employee's lives could genuinely improve. Herein lies the sad irony of the happiness industry in regards to improving the future of work. While we ponder how increasing wellbeing will lead to greater productivity, big data and automation are decimating the human workforce. The aggressive drive to embrace Artificial Intelligence means we've chosen machines over ourselves to maximize productivity.
Multiple leading economists have pointed out how this age of automation is different than ones in the past, since AI is replacing jobs in multiple industries. It's not just farmers who will be out of jobs. Or blue collar workers. There's software being developed to replace managers, engineers, and certainly AI programmers (that's the tough part of creating evolutionary algorithms). The very nature of AI is to observe our behavior in an effort to increase business productivity. And by definition, humans in this model are temporary.
You may say, "But machines could never replace humans as...(insert job title here)." Musicians? There are dozens of AI systems copying famous composers or musicians to algorithmically create new music. Writers? Companies such as Narrative Science and multiple other programs replicate human journalists or fiction writers. What you're talking about here is not a machine's ability to do tasks related with these industries, but your lack of awareness that they already exist. Or your tastes: You may prefer human created music over algorithm created music —that's your choice — but it has absolutely nothing to do with the ability for AI to create the music.
Similarly, any CEO or Board of Directors in today's atmosphere of automation has no valid reason to choose humans over machines. If the organization's focus in on always increasing growth or productivity, humans will be replaced. That's it. We can argue semantics if you like, but it won't change the fact that we as a species are actively choosing to create the machines that are replacing us at work.
If this sounds bleak, I agree. But I've been arguing against GDP-driven economies and workplaces for years. So here are some solutions I believe can genuinely increase employee and human wellbeing today:
We're at a crossroads in human history. We're looking to machines, Deep Learning, and Big Data to maximize productivity in the workforce while still hoping humans can play an active, long-term role in that process. That's like asking me to help train your fastest human runner at work for a race with the company's new Lamborghini. Pick your own metaphor, but while we fiddle with people's happiness buttons hoping to eke out "quantified ROI," management's installed the tech that's spiking productivity in the server room. Theirs goes to 11.
There's also the notion that we'll work alongside machines in the future. I agree with Martin Ford, author of the excellent book, Rise of the Robots, on this issue — the only reason robots will work with us is to watch what we're doing on the road to replacing our jobs. Sound unrealistic? Check out Amazon's Picking Challenge contest for a view of the future when the priority is on increased profitability versus people. In warehouses, the only reason Kiva robots haven't replaced all humans is because we have thumbs and can stand on our tiptoes. Once those engineering problems are solved, no more humans in those roles. This is a universal precedent for the model of the modern workforce. We can fear it, lament it, or reject it.
Not the technology, mind you — reject the paradigm that says we have to increase productivity at all costs, or be willing to pay the cost with your job. And the future of humanity at work.
This post first appeared on LinkedIn on May 14, 2015.
Published May 20, 2015 3am EDT / 12am PDT / 8am BST / 9am CEST
John C. Havens is Executive Director of The IEEE Global Initiative for Ethical Considerations in Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Systems.