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I, For One, Welcome
Our New Robot Overlords

robot manager

Here’s yet another reason managers need to do a better job with their employees: robots are catching up.

Letting robots have control over human tasks in manufacturing is not just more efficient — it’s actually preferred by workers, according to researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL).

We know that robots can perform complex and precise tasks in fields from manufacturing to surgery. But we tend to believe that there place in the workforce is limited. They lack soft skills, for example. And there is concern that working alongside robots will make humans feel less valuable.

The researchers suggest otherwise. In the study, groups of two humans and one robot worked together in one of three conditions: manual (all tasks allocated by a human); fully autonomous (all tasks allocated by the robot); and semi-autonomous (one human allocates tasks to self, and a robot allocates tasks to other human), according to MIT News.

The fully-autonomous condition proved to be not only the most effective for the task, but also the method preferred by human workers. The workers were more likely to say that the robots “better understood them” and “improved the efficiency of the team.”

Project lead Matthew Gombolay, a PhD student at CSAIL. “We discovered that the answer is to actually give machines more autonomy, if it helps people to work together more fluently with robot teammates.”

Humans are not out of the equation, though. They’re needed to develop the algorithm that guides the robots.

At least for now.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and iVillage.com, among others.