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Fri 18 Oct 2019 12:09 AM

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Opinion: why we must show the robots who's boss

It's getting harder for us to form meaningful relationships, with most UAE employees preferring a robot for a manager

Opinion: why we must show the robots who's boss
Robots can learn a thing or two from humans

Have you ever found yourself wishing that your manager was a robot? Seventy two percent of employees in the UAE have. According to a recent study from Oracle, the majority of employees in the emirates trust robots more than their managers.

Surprise, surprise.

In a world where we spend more time interacting with our phones than with each other, it’s no wonder we prefer machine over man.

I mean, look around you. At least one of your colleagues has his headsets on, is scrolling through social media, responding to e-mails, tracking steps on an Apple watch, or just staring aimlessly at their iPhone screen to avoid small talk in the elevator.

Can you blame them? Almost everyone has experienced a painfully awkward elevator ride. And technically, robots are much better behaved than humans.

As the Oracle study pointed out, robots are never late or biased, and are unlikely to bully, gossip or favour one person over the other. Office politics? Not on my future boss-to-be’s watch!

But the fact that so many people would prefer their boss to be a machine as opposed to a human is not only sad, but worrying. And it only means one thing: a lack of human connection.

“I don’t know about you but I’d rather take orders from my current boss than from eva”

With the increasing use of technology, especially with AI innovations looking and sounding like humans, what does this mean for human interaction?

I don’t have the answer, but the fact that we have to ask the question is deeply concerning.

Already, experts have raised the alarm that the younger generation’s use of technology leaves little time for face-to-face interactions.

At 32, I’m old enough to remember a time when handheld gadgets were a luxurious rarity. But according to data from the Common Sense Census, by 2017 teens were clocking in a staggering six hours a day of screen time, leaving little time to form any meaningful human relationships.

Judging by the rise of technology, this is likely to get worst; all you have to do is spot the kids at malls in Dubai barking commands at Alexa, and that’s if they’re not already engrossed in an iPad.

What does this mean for businesses? Think of your worst banking nightmare (besides debt). We’re thinking: Eva. Good luck ever connecting to a human customer service representative again.

A lack of human touch is clearly a problem. How will robots, let alone robot managers, connect with colleagues or clients and build meaningful relationships?

More concerning is that if AI-powered robots reach a stage of sophistication in which they are slotted into managerial positions – and outperform their human counterparts in these jobs – what scope is there for advancement in the office?

Given that it’s already a mission to reach a bank’s human customer service representative, it is about time businesses and people put their faith back in humanity.

“In a world where we spend more time interacting with phones than with each other, it’s no wonder we prefer machine over man”

It’s not easy; humans aren’t exactly perfect, but even with our imperfections we’ve managed to build a world where everything is available at our fingertips, and that’s pretty extraordinary.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to form meaningful connections with each other.

If only managers spent less time avoiding confrontation and addressing issues, there would be a whole lot of happier employees, better bottom lines, and less Eva’s (which, as my colleague has just pointed out, should be renamed “Diva” thanks to her lack of customer service skills).

While robots are here to stay and will only become a bigger part of our personal and professional lives, at the end of the day, it isn’t technology that is going to solve our problems – it’s us, humans.

And I don’t know about you but I’d rather take orders from my current boss than from Eva Diva.


Bernd Debusmann Jr, Chief Reporter