When the boss telling you to be more human is an algorithm

When Mr Conor Sprouls, a customer service representative at the call centre of insurance giant MetLife talks to a customer over the phone, he keeps one eye on the bottom-right corner of his screen. There, in a little blue box, artificial intelligence (AI) tells him how he's doing. Talking too fast? The program flashes an icon of a speedometer, indicating that he should slow down. Sound sleepy? There is a picture of a coffee cup. Not empathetic enough? A heart icon pops up.

For decades, people have fearfully imagined armies of hyper-efficient robots invading offices and factories, gobbling up jobs once done by humans. But in all of the worry about the potential of AI to replace rank-and-file workers, we may have overlooked the possibility that it will replace the bosses, too.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2019, with the headline 'When the boss telling you to be more human is an algorithm'. Print Edition | Subscribe