Do algorithms make better leaders?

When you downsize your workforce by replacing workers with algorithms, do you inadvertently ‘downsize’ your business by aggravating and alienating your customers?

“Facebook’s manager in charge of news feed, Adam Mosseri, said that the company’s prominent ‘Trending Topics’ section — which highlights about a dozen news topics for the app’s 1.7 billion users — is a ‘better’ product without human curators, whose role has been eliminated” writes Kathleen Chaykowski in Forbes.

Facebook fired its human editors and replaced them with an algorithm.

Ironically, Facebook claimed “the new, non-human trending module is personalized.”

Pause for a moment and consider this — what is a personalised non-human trending module? Real people were fired in favour of an algorithm. Facebook, the platform with a mission ‘to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected’ has decided their noble goal is more easily realised without people.

Self-driving vehicles are now beginning to replace drivers in a technological advance that will have profound implications for society. In this MIT Technology Review article, Will Knight describes his experience of “being chauffeured around town in one of [UBER’s] experimental self-driving cars.” The semiautonomous vehicles still demand human vigilance and surrendering one’s attention to trust in the car’s sensors can result in disastrous consequences.

“And while riding in the cars is a futuristic thrill, for the time being I think I’d prefer to hail a human driver, no matter how chatty” concludes Knight.

How long will it be before Uber phases out their own drivers who have taken on often considerable financial risk to pursue the Uber dream of working for oneself?

Do you think self-driving cars will afford more time for learning foreign languages, or watching reruns of Breaking Bad? Or will your boss expect you to be checking your emails, generating proposals, and fully present for work from the moment your device checks into the workpod (because we won’t call them cars anymore)? Let's face it, you are probably already working before you leave for work.

Intrusive depersonalising developments are nothing new. This latest wave is a continuation of earlier technologies such as automated telephone voice response systems. Consultants thought that having customers ‘dial 3 for sales’ instead of speaking with a live person would save money, reduce headcount, and offer customers a more streamlined experience. The reality was, and continues to be, frustration and anger with firms because of their impersonal, and often inane, computer driven prompts.

The next step in the rise of the algorithm is doing knowledge work, removing humans and further alienating customers. It can never be truly personalising to eliminate persons from activities and services, algorithm by algorithm. Yet, in the rush to be smart we do dumb things. Time and time again, it’s proven that when you disengage your staff, you disengage your customers. 

In Humanise I ask what will be left for us to do when robots are driving our cars, doing our shopping, writing our blogs and articles, cleaning our homes and providing our medical care. It won’t, however, be a question of what we do, but of who we are, of what kind of people we are, of how we relate to each other, and of how we care for one another. That is why I suggest that human-centred leadership, and not technology, will be the key to successful lives, leadership and business in the twenty-first century.