Entirely Misunderstanding AI In Business – Unions Complaining About Isaak

Sure and why not be worried about artificial intelligence uprooting centuries of accommodation in how we all work together. We’ve worked out useful rules of thumb about how we’re going to work for the bosses and the bosses have agreed to pretend to believe that we actually care about our employers. We thus rub along together without optimal efficiency but with a certain amount of social cohesion. If peeps start using AI to measure every detail then those cosy arrangements are going to be uncovered – that 10 minutes reading Facebook at work – without understanding how the cosy part is what stops us from impaling middle management upon the flaming pitchfork.

So, sure, be concerned. But it is worth at least knowing what it is that is being complained about. Such is the case with this whinge about Isaak. It monitors what people are actually doing at work. Hmm:

Dozens of UK business owners are using artificial intelligence to scrutinise staff behaviour minute-to-minute by harvesting data on who emails whom and when, who accesses and edits files and who meets whom and when. The actions of 130,000 people in the UK and abroad are being monitored in real time by the Isaak system, which ranks staff members’ attributes. Designed by a London company, Status Today, it is the latest example of a trend for using algorithms to manage people, which trade unions fear creates distrust but others predict could reduce the effects of bias.

Scary, eh?

And now we need to add two more little pieces:

Users so far include five law firms,

and:

Critics say such systems risk increasing pressure on workers who fear the judgment of the algorithm, and that it could encourage people not to take breaks or spend time in creative thought that will not be logged. “If performance targets are being fine-tuned by AI and your progress towards them being measured by AI, that will only multiply the pressure,” said Ursula Huws, a professor of labour and globalisation at the University of Hertfordshire. “People are deemed not to be working if they take their hands off the keyboard for five minutes. But they could be thinking, and that doesn’t get measured. What is this doing for innovation, which needs creative workers?”

Well, people looking for creativity who start using such software are rapidly going to go bust, aren’t they? Which nicely takes care of that problem. But think again about those two pieces of information.

Five minutes of no activity. Law firms.

How does a law firm work? It bills for the time of its lawyers. Each hour is divided up into 10 6 minute periods. When a lawyer does something – reads a letter, answers a phone call from a client, drafts a paragraph – they enter which client they were working for in that 6 minute period into their billing software. This is just how the system works. Some junior lawyer in a large firm is expected to be billing some number of hours each year. 2,000 from memory of a mate who joined a Wall Street white shoe firm. And actually billing 2,000 hours a year is being at work for a lot more than 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year.

That is, this AI is just a small change to what law firms already do. So it’s not all that much to complain about really. And those who do it inappropriately, where it’s not going to aid the business, or perhaps harm it? Great, we’ve a system that deals with that already. It’s called going bust.

And it’s also going bust which is our societal method of working out which new things do work and which don’t. You know, that market economy idea?

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Jonathan HarstonDodgy GeezerPat Recent comment authors
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Dodgy Geezer
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Dodgy Geezer

…but others predict could reduce the effects of bias…….

Unlikely. There is already a huge bias in favour of…let us call them ‘minorities’, though this may by no means be an accurate description.

If this (or any) system indicates that a ‘minority’ is not performing adequately, then extensive double-think needs to be undertaken in order that the ‘minority’ not be blamed. The net result will be extensive bias to make the playing field even less level than it is already, for…let us call them the ‘majority’…

Pat
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Pat

May I suggest that keeping a record of what time was spent on what account itself takes up time. There is also the problem of justifying that the hours recorded were the hours spent.
In the context of law, or consultancy this appears to reduce/eliminate time spent recording and hopefully increase time spent on productive work, increase the accuracy of records, and provide better justification for ‘re eventual bill.

Jonathan Harston
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Jonathan Harston

In a previous life when internet access was first made available at work, all sorts of memos went flying around about not wasting work time by “playing” with the internet. I replied that I would take notice when they showed evidence of punishing people for non-work activity such as saying “hello” to colleages, chatting over the photocopier, looking out of the window, making cups of tea, sitting in the roof garden smoking.

Jonathan Harston
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Jonathan Harston

When working I probablty spend about 60% of my time staing into space thinking up what I’m going to type next. My fingers are probably on the keyboard less than 10% of the time. The actual decanting from brain through keyboard smallest time-consuming part of the entire work.