(RO)BOT, (RO)BOT, TELL ME WHO IS THE HAPPIEST IN THE LAND? (EN)

May 20, 2018

 

Robots assembling cars, robots sorting cucumbers according to shape, robots instead of cashiers at Tesco, robot drivers (their history reaches almost 100 years back), robots working in conditions that are unpleasant for people (heat, cold, bad air…) - I don’t think this surprises any of us anymore.But what about a robot lawyer, robot teacher, robot writer, painter (not of rooms, but of pictures:) robot musicians/composers, or a robot who is in charge of you as an employee - a kind of HR robot…? All of this is not the future, but has already been the present for a few years. Further improvement of algorhithms, neural networks that are already improving themselves, no sweat. The question is - how do we as people come to terms with it? What will we resign ourselves to in time and what will we keep as “ours”?

 

WHY?

 

Because since the beginning of this year I have been a bit irritated by all the motivational e-mails, articles, blogs of all the various people within personal development, so I have personally, in a non-sales manner, resigned myself to something similar. Although I would fit well into such a setup and perhaps sell a few of my own products and services so nice and early in the year, but instead I have prepared a slightly delayed contemplative blog about our future hand in hand with (ro)bots.

 

Of course I am no programmer nor a data analyst - so my considerations are more about my wonder and admiration for this field, and even my fear of the unknown as a professional who helps people with their professional development.

 

A SMALL HR INTRO

 

Last October I held workshops at the Top Vision “Training and Development Forum” on the theme of personal branding of employees and work with Career Dyary, which was useful for this work. We talked about why every individual should take responsibility for their own development and work on themselves together with HR. This should not be done passively, somehow automatically waiting for what HR will come up with for you and then simply (sometimes passively) consuming it.

 

At a time when companies are fighting over the attention of capable people, this is a slightly daring thought. Won’t it be a little counterproductive to want something more from people than the work itself? Especially when the other companies can excel in the presentations, especially towards talented graduates, by offering football, free coffee, etc., I don’t want to sound stupid, but “nice to have” things and services? It is now a bit of a fashion to say everything you will be able to give, provide, enable… And in opposition to that I am suddenly saying that work on your personal vision is “yours”. Not your duty, but something that no one else will do for you and is necessary to put a chunk of yourself, a chunk of your energy… It’s not only about the power of selling yourself somehow, but simply trying to understand yourself: where am I coming from and where am I headed, what makes me happy, what am I good at, what potential can I develop.

 

Then one of the discussions was stirred up by a man who said, “All psychology is nonsensical pseudoscience based on false premises and the bad methodology of the majority of its research. This has a negative impact on HR, too. I think it’s time to transfer to full automation and simply tune the quality of the algorithms! Make HR more IT.” …that stuck in my mind so deeply that I may be recalling it in a slightly distorted way, but the sentiment was very “anti-human” and “pro-robot”

I thought about that for a long time. As you can see, it’s still on my mind months later … So, I told myself that I would find more information about it for this blog and try to arrange my thoughts on this topic, which are often quite contradictory..
 

MACHINES WILL TAKE OUR JOBS

 

One thing that seems undeniable is that you can’t stop progress. So although my initial reaction was negative (of course, defense mechanism: denial , it is probably obvious that the time for smashing the machines that are taking our jobs is far behind us and we can honestly admit that:
a) it was futile, and
b) there is still more than enough work (although, in comparison with the period of the Industrial Revolution, it is of a very different nature).
 

When we look into the history of automation, into why people have always striven to perfect machines, we will probably answer that the main motivation has simply been to make work easier. Or, as my colleague Pavel says: laziness is the motor of progress. With individual innovators we find that the motivation is the satisfaction gained from the process of discovery and improvement itself.

 

A deeper realization has undeniably shifted us forward in the area of health (higher life expectancy / average life expectancy), including the accessibility of food in many areas of the world regardless of season, etc. What interests me personally however, is our world of work and the way we earn a living, especially in the so-called first and second worlds.

 

Ok, so in these worlds we don’t exactly work from sunrise to sunset, 24/7 anymore. We have free weekends (at least in theory). So yes, there has been some progress there. But on the other hand: what about the tens and hundreds of emails every day, what about overtime (including weekends), which for many people are “obligatorily optional” so that we can manage the amount of work we have to do? Instead of sore backs from shoveling, we have sore backs from slumping in front of the computer. Why is it, despite all our technical progress, that a 4-hour work day or a 4-day work week is still a distant ideal rather than a reality for most people?

 

Personally, I am not afraid that robots will take our jobs and that we will have nothing to do (you can find many articles and videos on this topic – I have chosen a TEDex video on the theme: Why We Will Never Run Out of Jobs - from Tim O’Reilly). Hundreds of new positions will arise (overworked drone drivers, weather managers, surgeons with specializations in memory enhancement, vertical farmers, well-being consultants for seniors, etc.).

 

WHEN ARE WE FINALLY GOING TO BE HAPPIER IN OUR LIVES / WORK?

The question I am constantly asking myself is - are our lives at work really much easier, and thus better and happier? Again: passing over the basic modern health improvements ensuring that we are not dying en masse from the plague, I am looking for questions and answers in the work sphere. That is, I am approximately dealing with the top three levels of Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs.

 

Personally, technology enables me to do nearly two yearly quarters of work from Latin America, for which I am extremely happy. On the other hand, I do not see that our Euro-American society is more satisfied than the one there. And I am certainly not claiming the opposite. The big cities in Latin America have a similar rhythm and way of life to those in Europe, including hipster quarters :) Nevertheless, the countryside is noticeably slower and much poorer.

 

What do I observe there? A lot of “those kind of people” from Europe, the USA and other countries similar in style and standard of life often paradoxically “escaping” precisely because of the calmer lifestyle in the so-called third-world countries. And a lot of smart and ambitious people from those countries head to countries of the “first and second world” in order to do their business better and faster or differently. That’s how it is; it is probably our human curse that everyone longs for something that they don’t have :)

 

MIHÁLY - "EXPERT IN HAPPINESS"

 

And here I am looping back a bit. If you google the term happiness, you will find various studies that construct rankings of what makes us happy. One study presents, for example: sex, alcohol, volunteering, caring for children, music, time with friends, hobbies … Otherwise: children, a partner, work that fulfills us, physical activity... But here it obviously depends on the methodology of the surveys, so you can find x number of articles with various results.

 

In my opinion, though, the biggest expert on the topic of happiness is probably Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (an American psychologist with Hungairan roots, whose name I have not been able to remember for several years:) He is the author of one of the most recognized books on this topic: Flow (CZ / EN). He has been examining this theme for over 40 years and many of us know his graph describing when people, universally across cultures, professions, age, education and material wealth… attain the feeling of happiness.

 

 

With a sample of 1000 people, his teams figured out that it is exactly at a point during our activity (of any kind) when we are using a maximum of our current knowledge and ability, but we still have space to progress a little – there is a challenge in sight. So then we have a desire to continue creating, developing, writing, painting, training, producing, working with people … and in this process and in this state we usually forget about time and about, for example, if our neck is sore.

 

So, if I have completed a week-long course on coding (I am near zero on the Skills axis) and I immediately need to program a new webpage (very high on the Challenge axis), then this will probably bring me more depression than happiness and joy. You can freely apply this to sport, art, law, craft, science, working with people, whatever. There must be a balanced state on both axes: i.e. If I have already built five perfect wooden houses and my neighbor would like me to build him a bird feeder, then I will not feel ecstatic joy while I am pounding nails into this birdhouse.

 

ROBOTIZATION VS. OUR FLOW

 

And now back to robots. People will obviously continue to perfect this technology. And I can imagine that these visionaries and super technically skilled people doing it are really experiencing that flow.

 

 

This then begs the question of if and when we, the end users of the above-mentioned technology, will also experience that flow. I personally think that we will simply be getting an improved shovel. And if we are not able to say how to optimally use that shovel so that it brings us feeling of happiness, then I wonder why we are driving its development at such a furious rate?

 

Such paradoxes naturally arise, you are probably familiar with them, when I am wearing a smart watch (in the future it will probably be something directly under the skin or in our brain), so that I can know if I am sleeping well. Without this watch I have the feeling that I cannot have a high-quality training. Or I look at my mobile phone in the morning to find out how the weather is instead of opening the window. Or I ask Siri what I should eat today if I have decided to start a diet.

 

 

 

Will all of this make our work easier in terms of quality of life or happiness gained? I have the feeling that we often use these tools primarily so that we can do more things faster, and better, but we often forget why and what we really want for ourselves and we merely remain inside the thought process instead of forming a vision, a goal, and a purpose.

 

Of course I also do many of these things I mentioned (for example, I look at my mobile to find out the weather instead of going out onto the balcony:) ... and I like technology. I like trying new things and I think that one “must have” is to educate ourselves in this area (thanks to Czechitas, for example, who try to teach that IT isn’t only for IT guys, but that it is a necessity for everyone these days).

 

On the other hand, when I tried one application for completing tasks (the really nicely designed self-development app Fabulous – available for download on Android here) and the app tells me that I can’t forget to drink water, at one moment I actually said: “... damn! It’s as if I shouldn’t listen to my body, like I wouldn’t know if I’m thirsty...?”

 

ROBOTS in HR

 

And this is where I’m headed with this. Do we really want to give up our ability (not always absolutely perfect, but definitely trainable) to listen to our bodies, or our intuiition? Do we always want to deny ourselves the development of certain skills only because robots will be doing it for us in the future anyway? Is that what’s going to make us happier?

 

Of course, I can again use rationalizing argumentation like: plenty of people don’t know how to do it, have no time, have some health limitations… and that’s why these applications are super… ok ok. I’m not arguing with that. I just think that it is good to ask ourselves these questions. Not simply to resign our powers of critical thinking. And generally: Do not resign any thinking at all.

 

When I look at the areas where HR and human development people operate expecting that a robot will save them in recruitment and retention of employees, I’m afraid they’re in for a disappointment. But it could certainly help in many partial activities, e.g. simplifying paperwork and maybe speeding up test evaluation (in this way saving the owner money). Most likely, if my position is evaluated as non-automated for the time being, my final work will not decrease and a robot will probably not make me happier in my work.  … and trends of using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have been running full speed in HR for a long time. In the Czech Republic, automazation and connecting IT has been taken up by Matěj Matolín, for example (a.k.a. http://lovec-hlav.cz/), or Josef Kadlec and his https://www.goodcall.eu/about.

 

Maybe you’ve already done a video interview where a living person was not sitting on the opposite end but a robot which asked you questions, and your answers were recorded and evaluated. Or perhaps you have been subjected to testing before having this kind of interview without even knowing it – thanks to the analysis of your behavior, which is traceable on the internet thanks to text analysis (recently mainly aimed at unstructured data as well), language analysis (for use in some OpenNLP libraries) or sentiment analysis.

 

PREDICTION, PREDICTION, PREDICTION ...

 

Thanks to these and other methods, companies (but these are also used by schools, governments and anybody else) gain information not only about current behavior (of app users, clients, employees, business partners, citizens, students, …), but there is an effort to extract predictions for a given person from this data, of course – predicted behavior. Estimations of future purchases, estimates about when you will give notice (even before you know it yourself), realization predictions (insurance) fraud before it even happens, predictions of students leaving school early, the probability of success for a given position when they hire you…

 

All of this is already certainly happening. For example, the predictions for the early leaving of students from their studies at private universities was based on the monitoring of various changes in the behavior of students including the number of copied papers, visits to the school cantene, e-mail communication with the school, economic level in the region, where students originate from, etc. Fantastic, so, the academic office could preventively speak with students with “risk behavior” and thus lower the number of students that end their studies early (= a.k.a. lowering the drop in cash flow for the school). That sounds great – mainly for the leadership of the school responsible for the budget:) But doesn’t this remind you of something… ??  

 

The film Minority Report took apart this topic quite well in 2002. And what is the difference between the film and reality? Well, I guess it would be that today we are much closer to the film than in 2002. We have many times more data thanks to our behavior connected with the internet in every way (through Google, purchases, use of social media, etc.) i.e. we can make much more precise predictions and so this sphere has become that much more attractive for business as well as for political games (influencing election results or hybrid wars using various misinformation campaigns, among other tools).

 

But it is necessary to realize that if we create predictive models of behavior for individuals or groups, they are still predictions coming from prior behavior. We can always obviously improve the precision of the predicted behavior, but we are still working with probability with a certain degree of unsurity. I don’t want to get into this mathematical topic too much because it has been too long since my state exam in statistics:) but I would again bring it down to the level of personal development.

 

On the one hand I pose a question about:

a) the quality of data about me which is automatically evaluated

b) the quality of the interpretation of the data – e.g. how much do sentiment analysts consider irony and trolling, for example?

 

As I am looking for a source of information for this, the analysts of social networks are dealing with this problem. But what about intentional changes in the personal profile on social networks among precisely those users who specifically do not want to leave clearly legible tracks behind? What about the fact that a huge amount of people’s behavior depends on the context, and by setting them in a new context we can reveal as yet undeveloped potential?

 

How is an “HR robot” going to deal with this? Yes, AI of course will continue to teach itself through its behavior, but what matters is – the direction it takes. What will be its assignment: choosing the best colleague, who, according to the analysis, tests, predictions … will do the job the best. In time it will probably come to selecting a better robot for the team with a smaller range of error and with better prediction of their behavior… Or not? I really don’t know…, and so it goes on:)

 

Machines are not only here for making our work easier. They are becoming our colleagues, partners with their own decision-making mechanisms and ability to learn. And the question is – what do we as people (still) (not) want to resign ourselves to in our lives?

 

WHAT I (DON’T) WANT TO BE RESIGNED TO

 

I personally think that if I gradually resign myself to a number of basal thought operations such as thinking about what I feel, what I want from life, what makes me happy, what is important for me (such as my values), what makes my loved ones happy, how to orient myself in a new environment, in a new culture, etc., the more I gradually find myself in the totally passive role of a slightly dull technology user. I gradually become “the shovel of my former shovel”.

 

And controlling the passive (unthinking) crowd… that is clearly attractive for any kind of extremist. It’s probably not attractive for a robot, but probably natural, as it, as opposed to us, will continue to “improve” its own behavior.

 

And it doesn’t immediately have to be about “Planet of the Apes” in the robot version:)) Again, I’m just imagining the completely normal situation such as any kind of overbearing care (whether of children or seniors), when as a direct result of this extreme care we fall into a passive role over time, like a dull human accepting whatever is served to him. And the field is ready for manipulation:)

 

As you probably already know, or have at least seen in a couple of the links at the introduction, robots are not just machines automatically repeating our preprogrammed actions. Thanks to neural networks and their mutual connections, they learn unbelievably quick by themselves and create other contexts that the creators of their algorithms don’t understand yet (e.g. 2 robots gradually created their own faster language, etc.).

 

Robots are already able to do things that we long assumed to be only “our” human domain, such as producing creative art and hiring/firing the right employees. A robot will simply, objectively, always be smarter (or smarter in a different way?), faster, more precise… so it is necessary to find our place in the society of the future.

 

 

 

And this is exactly why I think that it is important not to give up my own thinking, my ability to critically analyze the situation and information in my surroundings, my ability to listen to my body, my ability to think, which is fun, where in life we want to head, my ability to listen to others, spend time outside, spend time with people who give me good energy. Learning new things, trying and finding our flow and looking for what brings us joy? No test, or in the better case, robot, will do this for us. Or it will do it and by that will slightly put blinders on our eyes if we take it as a fact and get rid of our own voluntary ability to discover new horizons.

 

Supporting people’s (critical) thinking, their overview of themselves, their situation, and the world around them – this is why I went freelance as a career coach from the beginning, giving myself this mission, this vision. And it really pleases me to still be fulfilling that vision (this is most likely my flow:), whether the tools that I create for children and adults, or the discussion at workshops or consultations.

 

So we’ll see how big a challege it will be, for me personally and in my life, as well as in working with people:)

 

I wish you all a lovely spring!

Petra Drahoňovská

https://www.careerdesigner.cz/en

 

PS:

a) Archive of other articles are on my web HERE                 

b) Or listen to the SoundCloud version in mp3 HERE

c) You can add comments under blog on my LinkedIn

d) Photos are from my working January 2018 in Mexico

 

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