,Some companies have taken AI chatbots to another level, even offering automated psychotherapy. Others offer to embed AI in work computers to detect burnout or other worrisome employee behaviours. — Business vector created by fullvector - www.freepik.com
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Harried supervisors will tell you managing a team is difficult in the best of times when face-to-face interaction happens daily and business is good.
Providing constructive feedback to dispersed workers during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic that has disrupted regular business can feel impossible. Some companies have seized on new tools built on artificial intelligence to monitor their employees.
These nascent productivity-monitoring tools, though, come with high risks, according to Serife Tekin, a professor who studies ethics and AI at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
"There's a big, big hype about artificial intelligence and what it can do," she told me. "The enthusiasm for these tools has increased since we started the Zoom life with the beginning of the pandemic. But they're extremely, extremely primitive."
Most of us have seen chat boxes pop up on websites offering help. In most cases, these are computer programs using artificial intelligence to answer basic questions. If your question is beyond the AI's capabilities, the chat is routed to a customer service representative.
Some companies have taken AI chatbots to another level, even offering automated psychotherapy. Others offer to embed AI in work computers to detect burnout or other worrisome employee behaviours. An Amazon driver recently quit because he was tired of the company's AI looking over his shoulder.
"This whole technology is grounded upon this thing called digital phenotyping," Tekin said. "It's basically inferring people's mental states based on their digital footprint."
The AI measures how quickly you speak on the phone or in a Zoom call. It can track how often you visit social media sites or how you respond to text messages. It measures your online behavior to determine your mental health, a correlation that researchers discovered more than a decade ago.
"Human‐computer interaction measures not what you type, but how you type," Dr. Thomas Insel, a former head of the National Institutes of Health, wrote in a landmark 2008 paper. "Subtle aspects of typing and scrolling, such as the latency between space and character or the interval between scroll and click, are surprisingly good surrogates for cognitive traits and affective states."
Insel and other researchers are convinced digital phenotyping will revolutionize mental health care. Hundreds of companies have seized on the research to launch employee monitoring apps, some concentrating on boosting productivity, while others are nothing more than spyware.
AI applications can track employee's every keystroke or mouse movement. Others use the computer's camera to track your eyes. If the AI determines a worker is unusually frustrated or unproductive, it can report the problem to human resources or a supervisor.