Algorithmic Management: The Role of AI in Managing Workforces

A rather dystopian article about how AI can be delegated managerial functions.

Reading notes

This is a downright dystopian article. Its main point is that ==AI can replace managers==. You might remember Bill Lumbergh from “Office Space” and think that it’s a good thing, but that’s not what the article is about.

A manager’s main tasks are assumed to be:

  • Coordination and
  • Evaluation (as in performance evaluation or job application evaluation).

The authors argue that automating these tasks away can make companies more profitable by making managers more efficient. As an example, they mention Uber and Lyft, which have fully automated coordinating a massive number of workers.

They also mention Amazon:

“Similarly, Amazon heavily relies on algorithms to track workers’ productivity and even generate the paperwork for terminating employment if they fail to meet targets.” {.callout}

Look, guys, you can’t just give an example of Amazon becoming a macabre parody of itself and claim it’s an example of progress. You’re not replacing Bill Lumbergh with something better, you’re just giving him cybernetic implants!

It seems to me that this article was written based on some simplified assumptions about both managers and workers, such as:

  • Evaluating a deliverable is the same as evaluating the steps taken to deliver it.
  • Managers are purely coordination and control machines. Human factors are irrelevant.
  • It is easier to automate high-value managers (measured by comp) than it is to automate low-value workers. That’s an a priori labor cost arbitrage right there.

The authors do admit that there’s something dodgy with this whole algorithmic management thing, albeit in a somewhat poorly worded way:

"However, our research suggests that focusing solely on efficiency can lower employee satisfaction and performance over the long term by treating workers like mere programmable “cogs in a machine.”

Surely, you didn’t need to do research for this? I’m sure it’s the result of some academic bureaucracy, where you need research for everything, including common sense, but I would leave it out of the popular articles.

In any case, the authors make a case that to truly reach the potential of algorithmic management, we need to make sure that we find a way to drive a truly symbiotic and harmonic cooperation between humans and algorithms, and ensure ethical application of it.

However, I think there is a lot of work to reach that.

Topics that the article touches on (ChatGPT generated)

  • Algorithmic Management
  • Efficiency and Scale
  • Employee Surveillance
  • Worker Well-Being
  • Stakeholder-Centered Approach
  • Symbiotic Division of Labor
  • Role of AI in Management
  • Human-AI Synergy
  • Redesigning Business Processes
  • Algorithmic Bias
  • Algorithmic Opacity
  • Explainable AI (XAI)
  • Regulatory Frameworks
  • Algorithmic Auditing
  • Ethics and Accountability in Algorithmic Management