One of the more disturbing Big Brother trends of the big data era has become workplace surveillance. Employers are now able to micromanage employees by tracking just about everything. They can track when employees have snacks, search for a job on company time; pretty much the most minute details about their productivity levels and movement through the day.
Now there is an artificial intelligence tool that will allow companies to monitor the emotions and moods of their employees by analyzing the conversations they have on Slack, the popular workplace messenger app.
A company out of Japan called AIR is the force behind the technology, known as Vibe. the solution gives companies the ability to measure morale in real-time through the process of sentiment analysis. The software works by monitoring conversations on the Slack app, tracking the overall mood of employees based on the five emotions of happiness, disappointment, stress, disapproval, and irritation. The AI then plots the feelings on a graph, letting managers track what is causing mood swings throughout the day.
Slack is one of many popular pieces of chat software, however. It, along with Hipchat and Basecamp, formerly Campfire – two other popular services – automatically log conversations. Most workers understand and accept that just about anything written in their company’s Slack account is fair game, similar to email, but most understand that accessing conversations aren’t as easy as email, which runs on company servers. Slack archives chat logs but it’s usually a law enforcement and a subpoena that unveil what’s been written.
Most of the time, however, employers have no reason to look at Slack’s chat conversations. And now they may not have to. Thanks to mood analysis tools such as Vibe running non-stop, bosses can quickly find the office gossips, whiners and complainers.
But all-things-automation is the point, I guess.
AIRs chief operating officer Frederic Peyrot recently told ZDNet that it is impractical to hold one-on-one weekly conversations in teams with over 20 people. He said Vibe was designed to allow managers to keep up with the morale of their teams, and see the things that increase and decrease the overall morale of teams.
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Peyrot also noted that Vibe will only perform mood analysis on the public Slack channels in a company, and said that it wouldn’t scan the direct, private messages employees send to one another. All team members, as well as managers, are allowed to view the emotional data; in the interests of transparency.
Despite this protection, there is ample reason to be worried that the emotional data Vibe and similar tools track could be used as leverage over employees. For instance, there are other workplace surveillance tools, such as Humanyze, that use electronic badges to monitor the physical movement of employees during the day. The data is then used to assess the productivity of employees.
Also, some employers are offering “workplace wellness” programs that sound good, but are used to gain access to the health information of workers, which could include DNA and other information that could be used to increase health insurance premiums or potentially discriminate against workers.
And some people still think criminal background checks are too intrusive.