Man 'fired' by machine shows downside of over-automation


You love your job. You do well on your projects. You get along with your co-workers.

Now, imagine coming to work one morning to discover you no longer have access to the premises, and have been logged out of every system you rely on for work.

You’ve been fired, you learn from your recruiter, but your manager is just as confused as you are. Soon, two men are approaching your desk; they have been ordered to escort you out of the office.

The order came from a machine – but none of your superiors can do anything to stop it. Sounds like science fiction? It’s not.

Ibrahim Diallo, a California-based software developer, went through the ordeal eight months into his three-year contract with a large company, he said.

In his blog post, ‘The machine fired me,’ Diallo recounted how a former manager failed to renew his contract in line with the acquisition of their old company. Diallo was taken in by the new management, but the paperwork for the transition hadn’t been drawn up.

When Diallo’s pre-existing contract had expired, “the machine took over and fired me,” he said.

“Once the order for employee termination is put in, the system takes over. All the necessary orders are sent automatically and each order completion triggers another order,” said Diallo.

As the management worked to fix the situation, Diallo was out of work and lost three weeks’ worth of pay because “no one could stop the machine.”

“A simple automation mistake (feature) caused everything to collapse,” he said.

Automation in HR is designed to fast-track recruitment, onboarding, and other routine functions so HR professionals can focus on more strategic tasks. But experts stress the need for humans to retain control over their tools.

“One of the fundamental skills for all humans in an AI world is accountability – just because the algorithm says it’s the answer, it doesn’t mean it actually is,” AI expert Dave Coplin told the BBC.

“It’s another example of a failure of human thinking where they allow it to be humans versus machines rather than humans plus machines,” he said.

HR tech expert Daneal Charney warned against the false dichotomy of humans versus robots in the age of AI and automation: “It’s not us versus the machine.”

The director of talent at the innovation hub MaRSDD moderated the AI and ethics panel at the HR Tech Summit in Toronto last week, and later tweeted her sentiments on empowering people.

“Put yourself back in the driver’s seat,” she said. “We decide why and how to adopt AI at work. We decide the ethical guiderails.”


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