HR Strange But True

You Can’t ‘Boss’ Me Around, You’re Just a Robot

Contrary to the title, most people prefer to be bossed around by robots than they do their own bosses according to a research project conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL). The research found that in a situation where a team of two humans and one robot work toward a common goal, the humans prefer the robots to take charge.

Matthew Gombolay, a PhD student at CSAIL, who ran the research project, says that having the robots in control doesn’t mean they are running the workplace, but rather that the robots assign and coordinate tasks. “In our research, we were seeking to find that sweet spot for ensuring that the human workforce is both satisfied and productive,” says Gombolay. “We discovered that the answer is to actually give machines more autonomy if it helps people to work together more fluently with robot teammates.”

The project involved two people working on separate ends of a workstation. They were not allowed to be at the same ends at the same time, and the robot could work at only one specific station all the time. During the project, there were three working arrangements. One arrangement involved only humans coordinating the tasks. The second involved one worker taking on his or her own task while the robot delegated tasks to the second worker. The last arrangement involved the robot delegating all tasks to the robots.

The results show that the workers favored having the robot delegate the tasks, and it was the best way to effectively execute the work schedule. “We confirmed that time to generate a schedule and time to execute that schedule was better when the robot had more control,” Gombolay says.

The workers also said that the robot better understood them, improved the efficiency of the team, and helped them do their jobs without having to worry about small management decisions. This research shows how much of an impact robots have on the workplace. It also shows that sometime in the future, workers could be answering to a machine instead of a human manager!