Roboboss – to bot or not to bot? // Part 2

By Anders Skytte Martinsen, 29. October 2018

In this second part I continue my view on the what, the how, the why of the roboboss. We smelled the roboboss in part one, and let me just reveal that the smell will not go away. Oh yes, and then I promised a namedropping of Robert Downey Jr. It will come. But let us first see what the politicians and research are saying, what it means to be high tech and/or high touch, and why we need to split management and leadership.

Find part one of this mini series blog posts about roboboss here

Policy and research

In various formats we are witnessing how politicians today are trying to deal with the issues of ethics and morale when it comes to the use of data. Two good examples of this are the Danish Tech Ambassador Casper Klynge and President Emmanuel Macron. As Ambassador Klynge describes: “Cambridge Analytica was a blessing in disguise in the sense that I had a lot of questions before about why we need a tech ambassador, why we must have this kind of conversation. That case showed that we do need to have a dialogue and that there are real problems with some of the platforms.”

The same goes for President Macron that in an interview with Wired said the following: “If we want to defend our way to deal with privacy, our collective preference for individual freedom versus technological progress, integrity of human beings and human DNA, if you want to manage your own choice of society, your choice of civilization, you have to be able to be an acting part of this AI revolution. That’s the condition of having a say in designing and defining the rules of AI.”

We also find the positive winds when we look at the world of academia. Much more is still to be researched, but it is very encouraging that the Danish School of Education have started a research program called REELER – Responsible Ethical Learning with Robotics. This program includes partners from the fields of anthropology, learning, robotics, philosophy, and economy and aims to align roboticist’s vision of a future with robots with empirically-based knowledge of human needs and societal concerns.

The above statements and the development in different areas of academia underlines the needed discussion about a roboboss, about data, about the trend of high tech.

High tech vs. high touch

The fact is that high tech is a hard trend. But often with these hard trends comes an opposing trend or soft trend. For high tech the following soft trend is high touch. In short, high touch is the emotional intelligence skills that support a better team environment by looking at people. So when framing high tech & high touch, as John Naisbitt did, it is a matter of saying that the more technological the future becomes, the greater the need for physical touch is.

It is not a matter of saying that the world becomes more “tech” and more “touch”. Instead, it is a view that when something essentially human is downgraded, the need for it increases accordingly. This also goes for the discussion around a roboboss. Yes, we should embrace it, because it will come. But at the same time, we need to be very careful about it. It is not a matter of high tech or high touch, it is instead applying both high tech AND high touch when starting the travel of integrating a roboboss in your workplace.

Management vs. leadership

But is there a way that I could be a little more high tech in some areas, and more focused on high touch in other areas? Yes, there is. My answer to that question lies in the famous quote by Peter Drucker, where I at the same time allow myself to divide the everyday task of a leader into only two parts: management and leadership: The good Mr Drucker says: “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” I truly believe that the management part can be taken over by a roboboss. If telling the robot what to do, it will be able to the things just as right as you, or even better, when taking on the management hat. Hence, my believe is that you can go hardcore high tech on the management part!

This will likewise free up time – time to spend on the leadership part, and do the right things. The question is then whether a roboboss can take over the leadership part. My quick answer would be no. My daring answer on the other hand would be a maybe. We still need leaders to have good leadership skills, and, not least, exercise these. But we also need to dare to let our leadership skills be augmented by different technologies and software.

If imaging robots, you should see the robot taking care of the management part be R2D2, whereas the robot taking care of leadership could be the handsome Robert Downey Jr. Wait a minute, he is not a robot. You are right. But when he takes on the Iron Man suit he becomes Iron Man. He is still Robert Downey Jr (or Tony Stark in the movie), but he becomes augmented. See where I am heading? In short, have a R2D2 as well as an Iron Man suit in your office.

Augmented intelligence

This idea also goes hand in hand with the proclaims we see from World Economic Forum. In the beginning of this year, WEF had an article where they in a matrix perfectly described how the task setting and nature of task are revolutionized by technology – going from management to leadership. WEF’s focus on augmented leadership is even further highlighted when reading the newly-published ‘Future of Jobs 2018’, as the word continues to appear in different forms throughout the report. The use of augmentation is not to neglect, and it seems as if WEF is smelling the roboboss as well.

In that relation it is also worth mentioning the a new book by Thomas Terney called ‘Kampen om Fremtiden’ (in English ‘The War of the Future’). Here, he likewise highlight the above but also dares to see the acronym AI in other ways than what we have been explained for a long time. More specific, he describes the following:

  1. Autonomous intelligence
  2. Adaptive intelligence
  3. Automated intelligence
  4. Augmented intelligence

I really like this approach, as it sees AI with different lenses than what we have been told to use.

In the same manner I also started this blog by taking on the technological-optimistic lenses. And I am still wearing these lenses. I strongly believe that the roboboss is just around the corner. The technologies and software are already there. It is just a matter of building the robot. Maybe two robots, one taking shape like R2D2 and help you with the management task, the other being an Iron Man suit that augment you as leader.

Have fun building!

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