Bad management is all too frequent in companies. Maybe the CEO is too enchanted with Ayn Rand or managers don't know how to work with millennials.

That's why the concept of replacing managers with artificial intelligence is going to be big. Forget the biases, egos, and need to build personal fiefdoms the better to jump to the next rung of the success ladder. Provide the data and history, run a learning system, and have a computer make the decisions.

Go ahead, get all the jokes out now: Your manager already is a machine-like zombie. He or she combines the interpersonal skills of Dilbert's boss and the compassion of Arnold Schwarzenegger's character in the original Terminator. At night, they plug the manager in to charge for the next day.

But whether you work for a supervisor or are an entrepreneur employing them, the reality of artificial intelligence has begun to hit the world of management. Bridgewater Associates, the world's largest hedge fund, plans to replace managers with software. The tasks AI systems will perform include "hiring, firing and other strategic decision-making," according to The Guardian.

David Ferrucci, the guy who was in charge of developing IBM's Watson AI system that beat humans at Jeopardy in 2011, joined Bridgewater in 2015. He's running the effort to use recordings of meetings and regular ratings employees give each other as fuel for a learning system. Software already determines each person's strengths and weaknesses, based on the information, and works with employees to set goals -- and then track the success.

This should surprise no one. Automation has been happening for years at lower employment levels of companies. Lately, it's been making inroads in such areas as medicine, law, media, and financial services. Many people who at one time would have thought themselves irreplaceable -- "I'm hardly a factory worker" -- have found that a program can pretty much do what they did but at a much lower total cost.

If you think about it, it's clear that a property developed software system would likely apply principles more evenly and predictably than humans, and predictability is what companies want even more than cost savings. A computer won't roll the dice on a ridiculously high risk because of a gambler's urge or indulge in sexual harassment resulting in a lawsuit.

Sure, there will be times that people skills are most important, but how able are most managers and supervisors? In that context, consider that one in two employees leave their jobs because of bad managers, according to Gallup.

A study from Danish consulting firms DARE2 and Bloch & Ostergaard suggest that a third of workers in the U.S. would prefer a software boss to a human one. They think the machine would be more trustworthy and ethical and that performance evaluations would be unbiased, unlike what they get from people.

Managers are getting squeezed from the top and bottom because of their own shortcomings and human failings. As AI and decisions systems get even better, anyone who thinks a position in middle (or even upper) management is safe should consider a long round of perception adjustment. Such jobs may actually be among the most easily replaced.

There are reasons you'd want a human in a management position. Emotional insight, for one, or the ability to grasp the psychology of group dynamics, or to persuade people to do their best. But if the humans in place don't already do this, the need for people as managers quickly falls away.

Published on: Jan 2, 2017
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