Daisuke Wakabayashi in the New York Times: “Technology companies like to promote artificial intelligence’s potential for solving some of the world’s toughest problems, like reducing automobile deaths and helping doctors diagnose diseases. A company started by three former Google employees is pitching A.I. as the answer to a more common problem: being happier at work.
The start-up, Humu, is based in Google’s hometown, and it builds on some of the so-called people-analytics programs pioneered by the internet giant, which has studied things like the traits that define great managers and how to foster better teamwork.
Humu wants to bring similar data-driven insights to other companies. It digs through employee surveys using artificial intelligence to identify one or two behavioral changes that are likely to make the biggest impact on elevating a work force’s happiness. Then it uses emails and text messages to “nudge” individual employees into small actions that advance the larger goal.
At a company where workers feel that the way decisions are made is opaque, Humu might nudge a manager before a meeting to ask the members of her team for input and to be prepared to change her mind. Humu might ask a different employee to come up with questions involving her team that she would like to have answered.
At the heart of Humu’s efforts is the company’s “nudge engine” (yes, it’s trademarked). It is based on the economist Richard Thaler’s Nobel Prize-winning research into how people often make decisions because of what is easier rather than what is in their best interest, and how a well-timed nudge can prompt them to make better choices.
Google has used this approach to coax employees into the corporate equivalent of eating their vegetables, prodding them to save more for retirement, waste less food at the cafeteria and opt for healthier snacks….
But will workers consider the nudges useful or manipulative?
Todd Haugh, an assistant professor of business law and ethics at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, said nudges could push workers into behaving in ways that benefited their employers’ interests over their own.
“The companies are the only ones who know what the purpose of the nudge is,” Professor Haugh said. “The individual who is designing the nudge is the one whose interests are going to be put in the forefront.”…(More)”.