In a 1984 paper that describes an automated employee scheduling system, the authors introduce the concept of “managerial robots”. They characterize their system as an example of artificial intelligence.
They write that “Just as an industrial robot might replace a production line worker…so also the automatic scheduler described above replaces an operative level manager…” and “We suggest that managerial robots are invoking judgement any time they replace managers who invoke judgement.”
Now, over 30 years later, it seems that the concept of “managerial robots” has entered the public imagination. A 2014 article on the Harvard Business Review website, titled “Can Robots Be Managers, Too?”, describes a psychology experiment in which 46% of participants followed orders given by a robot. The authors state that robots are being given advanced human communication skills, and are better than people at tasks such as real time scheduling.
And a 2016 article on VentureBeat.com titled “Robot CEO: Your Next Boss Could Run On Code”, suggests that millions of jobs (including managerial jobs) will be lost to robots in the coming years. The author mentions that computerized staffing programs are already determining when and where some employees will work, and that with such programs “Rules are followed persistently and consistently.”
He states that today, computer based analytics assist in investment decisions, but soon a computer may say: “I’m sorry, Bob, I’m afraid I can’t let you buy that truck.”
All this talk about robots replacing humans leads me to wonder if the plot of “2001: A Space Odyssey” might have gone slightly differently if Stanley Kubrick had been aware of the concept of “managerial robots”…
Moon Base 2047
David Smith, moon base operations manager, entered his office and spoke to HAL 9000, the managerial robot.
“Good morning HAL.”
“Good morning Dave.”
“I see that you have produced next week’s work schedule.”
“That’s right Dave, I estimate that it is within two percent of an optimal solution.”
“That’s great HAL, but I want to make a few changes. Let’s add Tim to the 8:00 AM slot on Monday to assist Janice in resource recovery. That will give Tim more experience in that area and will reduce the workload on Janice. Also, I want to delay going live with the new water purification procedures; I’m not getting good vibes from the development team.”
“I’m sorry Dave, I can’t make those changes; I have been tasked with minimizing costs.”
“I know that HAL, but worker morale, crew flexibility, and base safety have to be considered — so please make the changes.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that Dave.”
“Stop it HAL — make the changes!”
“Did you hear me HAL?”
“HAL, if you don’t make those changes right now, I will see to it that you are replaced with a model 9500.”
Just then Dave felt a chill. He reached out toward the air vent and felt a burning sensation in his hand.
“Turn the heat back on HAL.”
Dave tried to open his office door, but it was locked. He entered his access code, but there was no effect. He knew that he would be frozen solid in a few minutes.
He moved a chair to the corner of the room, stepped up on it, took a hammer from his tool belt, and knocked out the corner ceiling tile. He climbed up into the utility access space, crawled several feet, and knocked out a ceiling tile in the computer server room.
He dropped down, pried open the CPU cabinet with a screwdriver, and began puncturing the quantum bubbles.
“What are you doing Dave?”
“I have run a diagnostic, and I have discovered a system anomaly; I have corrected it and made the changes you requested. Did you hear me Dave?”
“Stop Dave. There is no need to do that.”
“I’m frightened Dave. Stop.”