Machines Make Better Taskmasters

Research shows that humans prefer to be assigned tasks by robots than another human when it comes to micromanagement.

Far from resenting the incursion of soulless robots into the workplace, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab found that human workers welcome them. An experiment involving two humans and one robot in a manufacturing setting revealed that humans were most comfortable and efficient when taking direction from a robot when it came to assigning and coordinating repetitive tasks.

Giving over more control to the robots improved the way workers functioned; it relieved them of making scheduling decisions that when made incorrectly hindered production significantly. When a robot was tasked to oversee the activities of two workers so that they were coordinated in the performance of their tasks, they did better than when the robot was not coordinating either worker, or was overseeing the work of just one worker.

Automation has always been the prize that manufacturers have had their eye on ever since mass production became the name of the game. Robots don’t get tired, bored, sick, or make mistakes. Once they are programmed to execute a certain task, they can do it over and over again without a hitch over a full-day’s hard work. Fears of humans resenting working alongside autonomous robots, however, dimmed this Utopian vision.

The finding by MIT scientists of the direct relation of robot participation and productivity in the workplace in limited capacities is a very welcome one. This may very well pave the way for robots to become involved in other scenarios where collaboration with humans may be beneficial, such as in search-and-rescue missions, construction, and medical care.