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Virtual Boss Keeps Workers On a Short Leash 664

Posted by samzenpus
from the keeping-an-eye-on-things dept.
Gr8Apes writes "Hitachi has created a 'perfect virtual boss.' The company is manufacturing and selling a device intended to increase efficiency in the workplace called the Hitachi Business Microscope (paywalled). 'The device looks like an employee ID badge that most companies issue. Workers are instructed to wear it in the office. Embedded inside each badge, according to Hitachi, are "infrared sensors, an accelerometer, a microphone sensor and a wireless communication device." Hitachi says that the badges record and transmit to management "who talks to whom, how often, where and how energetically." It tracks everything. If you get up to walk around the office a lot, the badge sends information to management about how often you do it, and where you go. If you stop to talk with people throughout the day, the badge transmits who you're talking to (by reading your co-workers' badges), and for how long. Do you contribute at meetings, or just sit there? Either way, the badge tells your bosses.'"
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Virtual Boss Keeps Workers On a Short Leash

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  • In otherwards (Score:5, Insightful)

    by halfEvilTech (1171369) on Monday February 03, 2014 @12:49PM (#46141457)

    It just takes micromanagement to an entirely new level. No thanks to these.

  • by TWiTfan (2887093) on Monday February 03, 2014 @12:50PM (#46141487)

    Guaranteed to get rid of off your employees who have other options!

  • Re:In otherwards (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mhajicek (1582795) on Monday February 03, 2014 @12:56PM (#46141577)
    Get ready for your new Terrafoam domecile.
  • by Opportunist (166417) on Monday February 03, 2014 @12:59PM (#46141623)

    You mean, like, what we got now?

  • Re:Misunderstood? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Opportunist (166417) on Monday February 03, 2014 @01:03PM (#46141663)

    If I had any reason to believe that the device was for improvement of workflow and elimination of redundancy, I'd gladly wear it. The problem is that the way employees are treated today, there is exactly zero reason to believe that was the idea behind it.

  • Re:Misunderstood? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by i kan reed (749298) on Monday February 03, 2014 @01:06PM (#46141701) Homepage Journal

    I don't know what world you live in where Japan has a healthy work culture. [carolinepover.info] Abuse of psychology for net harm of workers is considered normal.

  • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jellomizer (103300) on Monday February 03, 2014 @01:17PM (#46141847)

    I have to agree, this goes against everything that is said about good management. Most good MBA schools would disprove of this.
    Why?
    1. There is a calculated benefit towards (water cooler chats), this increases overall productivity, by allowing informal collaboration and knowledge exchange.
    2. The issue between Introverted and Extroverted employees. An introverted employee in a meeting may seem very quite and engaged, however they are there listening and taking in the information, where they may come up with better solution later on. Extroverted may seem like they are engaged however they are just talking a lot of nonsense, and off topic, because they like talking.
    3. Employee intensive is Work Environment + Pay. If they feel like their freedom is being taken away from them, it is equivalent to paying them less. If an employee feels like they are being paid fairly they will perform better then one who feels like they are not.
    4. Synergy. How can you have Synergy if people are not working together, and knowing each others strengths and weaknesses?

  • Re:Misunderstood? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AmiMoJo (196126) * <mojo AT world3 DOT net> on Monday February 03, 2014 @01:26PM (#46141937) Homepage

    Japanese companies are very different to western ones. They consider employees to be assets, and really do consider themselves a family. They are often undervalued because western investors consider high wages to be a weakness and a burden. Japan has the highest number of 80+ year old companies anywhere though, so clearly it works for them.

    Of course not all are that good, TEPCO for example, but Hitachi has a good reputation.

  • Re:Manna (Score:4, Insightful)

    by meta-monkey (321000) on Monday February 03, 2014 @01:31PM (#46142007) Journal

    I read Manna a few years back, and I think about it often as I ponder our increasingly automated world. Google's self-driving vehicles are going to destroy so many jobs. At first, sure, they'll be required to have a person sit in them in case anything goes wrong, but once the technology proves itself, they'll get rid of that requirement. And don't think they won't...those with the gold will get rid of that rule because it cuts into their profits.

    Eventually, no more truck drivers. No more UPS guys. No more mail carriers. No more taxi cab drivers. No more pizza delivery boys.

    I don't know how many millions of jobs that would wipe out, but what will those people do?

    And the thing is, it could go either way, just like Manna. But in the US, we know exactly which way it would go. And that's scary, because when people get hungry because they have no jobs, they don't stay hungry. They tend to get out the pitchforks and torches.

  • by ArbitraryName (3391191) on Monday February 03, 2014 @01:40PM (#46142097)
    Sounds like a great time to start up a competing company. You can hire off the cream of the crop talent without having to pay above market average.
  • Re:In otherwards (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Joce640k (829181) on Monday February 03, 2014 @01:42PM (#46142127) Homepage

    When I saw the words "Perfect Boss" I imagined something totally opposite to the rest of the description (which describes the boss from hell...)

  • by buswolley (591500) on Monday February 03, 2014 @01:43PM (#46142133) Journal
    Bingo.

    How about this. Management has to wear these and the data gets broadcast to the workers in summary emails

  • by meta-monkey (321000) on Monday February 03, 2014 @01:44PM (#46142141) Journal

    You say Orwellian, but it's also what everybody on Star Trek lives with. The computer keeps track of every person on the ship, their location, and their vital signs, and never seems to require command-level authorization to dispense information. Any kid can query the computer and it'll respond "Counselor Troi is in Commander Worf's quarters. Her heart rate is accelerated and her pulmonary system is taxed." And we think of Star Trek as a utopian ideal.

  • Re:In otherwards (Score:5, Insightful)

    by buswolley (591500) on Monday February 03, 2014 @01:46PM (#46142185) Journal
    For all the talk that libertarians give about freedom, they sure don't seem to care about worker freedoms in the workplace. Those freedoms are out the door when you step through it.
  • Re:In otherwards (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 03, 2014 @01:53PM (#46142283)

    Because, for those libertarians, the right to make a profit trumps anything as pesky as workers rights ... and if people weren't willing to work there they could work elsewhere and the 'invisible hand' would sort everything out.

    Those people are largely full of shit.

  • by sqrt(2) (786011) on Monday February 03, 2014 @01:58PM (#46142355) Journal

    Not if this technology actually delivers and makes the workforce more efficient--even if it's through dehumanizing total control. Your hippy dippy startup won't be able to compete.

    So while you're giving extravagant perks to your employees such as unmetered bathroom breaks and letting them skip their quarterly non-work related conversation log review, your competitors are brutalizing their employees and reaping the rewards associated with turning human beings into pliable, docile, terrified, machines.

    The worst thing about fascism is that it can actually deliver; as long as you don't get side tracked by useless and expensive crusades of ethnic cleansing or territorial expansion.

  • Re:In otherwards (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ultranova (717540) on Monday February 03, 2014 @02:03PM (#46142411)

    For all the talk that libertarians give about freedom, they sure don't seem to care about worker freedoms in the workplace. Those freedoms are out the door when you step through it.

    Libertarians aren't about freedom (positive liberty), they are about (negative) liberty. What this means in practice is that if your oppressor isn't called "government", you're on your own.

    There's a certain consistency to their position, since guaranteeing my positive liberty to not wear a collar like this removes my employers liberty to demand it as a condition of employment. The problem is that libertarianism vastly overestimates the government's share of power in modern society, and consequently underestimates that held by the private sector, and thus sets its priorities wrong. And of course true believers refuse to acknowledge that any priorities beyond ideological purity even exist.

    A more cynical person might wonder if the movement isn't backed by the very oppressors who want to deflect would-be freedom fighters from themselves to windmills. But surely our corporate overlords wouldn't do something so dishonest.

  • Re:In otherwards (Score:5, Insightful)

    by penglust (676005) on Monday February 03, 2014 @02:05PM (#46142435)
    Another anonymous BS artist. In a modern society governments are created by the people (where have I heard that before) to ensure the common good. There is the freedom to do anything to your employees you want and then there is the freedom to not be treated like a slave. Where have most of the battles been fought in the last 150 years or so.

    That is until the the corrupt domineering religious right started forcing there values onto everybody else at the republican corporate ran prison system and then the extra greedy rich used them to extend their money power on congress.

    Our government today is mostly bought and sold just as you would have it. Fuck you with forced at gun point. How about some common decency.
  • by mbone (558574) on Monday February 03, 2014 @02:11PM (#46142519)

    I cannot imagine a better argument for unionization than such gizmos.

  • by hey! (33014) on Monday February 03, 2014 @02:14PM (#46142545) Homepage Journal

    Years ago I worked on early mobile field work software on GPS enabled PDAs. Periodically I'd take an installation and training trip so I could hear the stakeholder concerns. One of the concerns I frequently heard from field workers in private was that the boss would be tracking their movements every moment of the day, and he'd use this to go after workers he didn't like. This was new stuff, and it had a bit of a creepiness factor for people who'd never used a computer in their life.

    My response was always this: What would *you* do if you wanted to show someone is goofing off instead of working? You'd go to the site where he claimed to have done the work and see if it actually got done. It's what you'd do, it's what I'd do, and it's what your boss does if he has any common sense. If he doesn't, *he's* the one who's goofing off. Field work is hard; traveling around and keying a few bogus entries is much easier, and would be sufficient to fool the system.

    With a few exceptions like security guards, you don't need technology to tell if a worker is doing his job. You need to manage your employees by measuring the things you expect them to accomplish.

    We are far from having a technological substitute for intelligent supervision. Anything that falls short of that is just pandering to management laziness.

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Monday February 03, 2014 @02:19PM (#46142639)

    We are far from having a technological substitute for intelligent supervision.

    The cynic in me would say that you pretty much analyzed why we need that technological substitute.

  • Re:Why? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by OldeTimeGeek (725417) on Monday February 03, 2014 @02:21PM (#46142667)

    What problem are they trying to solve? They want to recover the cost of managers. They can't get rid of the technical staff - they actually need them - but they can get rid of that expensive middle tier by automating the tracking part of management. Which all they think there is to management.

    Before you all say "Woohoo", think of this: The CIO is now your boss. You are no longer a person, you're a resource. The only way he knows you or of you is a set of numbers on a report. You either make whatever metric they use to gauge your performance or you don't. They don't care if you're sick, or if you're taking care of a child, or if you've got a personal problem - you don't make the numbers and you're gone.

  • Re:In otherwards (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Psyborgue (699890) on Monday February 03, 2014 @02:22PM (#46142669) Homepage Journal
    You're missing the point. A business that did this would be at a disadvantage because of the dissatisfied employees (especially competent ones) who would go elsewhere. The usual counter argument is that if everybody does it, then there is no "freedom", but of course this ignores the fact that the one business that didn't do this would have a massive advantage. Happy workers are productive workers. So yes, the market sorts it out here too.

    Yeah, sure, there might be situations where entire low skilled sectors of work did this sort of thing (like with fast food drug testing), but at the same time, that simply provides an incentive to better one's self and maybe go back to college. Plenty of people do it. It's not always easy but if people work at it, it's almost always possible.
  • Re: In otherwards (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 03, 2014 @02:26PM (#46142719)

    And if every company just happens to coincidentally implement the same antiworker policies then you are perfectly free to starve and die! Another win for the free market!

  • Re:In otherwards (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sqrt(2) (786011) on Monday February 03, 2014 @02:33PM (#46142813) Journal

    Happy workers are productive workers.

    I have a hard time believing someone can be so ignorant of history. Do you think slaves were happy? What about feudal serfs? Or pre-unionized steel workers? Or the children working in textile factories?

    Capital has never, and will never, care about the happiness of their workers unless those workers force them to care. We had to fight tooth and nail for the rights we have now; eight hour days, forty hour weeks, weekends, workplace safety, sick leave, maternity leave, minimum wage. These things make workers happy, and none of them were offered up voluntarily. They had to be bought with the blood and the lives of the working class from generations ago, and capital has been tirelessly waging a ceaseless campaign to take them back.

  • Re:In otherwards (Score:5, Insightful)

    by morgauxo (974071) on Monday February 03, 2014 @02:52PM (#46143035)

    " that simply provides an incentive to better one's self and maybe go back to college"

    The problem with this logic is that society needs a certain number of people to work in those low end jobs. Society does not however need 100% of it's individuals to hold college degrees. We already have factories looking for college degrees when they hire line workers. These are jobs where the workers are doing simple repetative tasks like turning screws, inspecting paint as parts go by on a line, etc... all day long. Why? Because they have so many potential workers to chose from and no better way to differentiate between them!

    How many years of college will we all need to escape the collar? How much money in student loans? The worse things get in these low-end jobs the more people try to get out of them the higher the bar gets but with no real advantage for society.

  • Re:In otherwards (Score:3, Insightful)

    by operagost (62405) on Monday February 03, 2014 @03:03PM (#46143129) Homepage Journal
    You can't legislate common decency. Otherwise, we'd have to ban 4chan and about half of the shows on "TruTV".
  • Re:In otherwards (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jeremy Erwin (2054) on Monday February 03, 2014 @03:09PM (#46143167) Journal

    Yay for indentured servitude.

    Or alternatively,

    You load sixteen tons, what do you get
    Another day older and deeper in debt
    Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
    I owe my soul to the company store

  • Re:In otherwards (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 03, 2014 @03:29PM (#46143375)
    Our government today is mostly bought and sold just as you would have it.

    Yeah, it's all those nasty Republicans. Right? No Democrats would stand for that. Right? No lobbiests in the Whitehouse under the Democrats. Right? Black check at the beginning of Obama's term wasn't spent on bailouts just like the Republicans. Right?

    You're part of the problem.

    Posted as AC just to burn your ass.
  • Re:In otherwards (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SuperCharlie (1068072) on Monday February 03, 2014 @03:49PM (#46143581)
    The right-left argument is like leaving a note with "Look on the other side" written on both sides to keep the idiots busy while being gang-raped.
  • Re:In otherwards (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Khashishi (775369) on Monday February 03, 2014 @03:51PM (#46143595) Journal

    Libertarians hate the state, but their ideal society is one where a corporation can essentially have all of the power of the state, but without any representation. They will say, you are free to leave a corporation and do business with another. How is that different than, if you don't like the laws of a state, go to another state?

    This isn't hypothetical. Company towns in the past were owned by a corporation which provided essentially all government functions. Quite the libertarian paradise.

  • Calm down (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sjbe (173966) on Monday February 03, 2014 @03:56PM (#46143659)

    I have a hard time believing someone can be so ignorant of history. Do you think slaves were happy? What about feudal serfs? Or pre-unionized steel workers? Or the children working in textile factories?

    He said "happy workers are productive workers". He did NOT say "all productive workers are happy workers". See the difference? What he probably meant was "companies that use policies that keep their workers happy are more likely to have workers that are productive". Sure you can force someone to be productive under miserable conditions but you can get terrific productivity as well by treating your employees nicely.

    Capital has never, and will never, care about the happiness of their workers unless those workers force them to care

    True and there has been tremendous progress on that front. Working conditions in the US are FAR better in most cases than they were 100 years ago, sometimes to a fault.

  • Re:In otherwards (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 03, 2014 @05:05PM (#46144265)

    There's too many of these BS comments about libertarians, by people who are completely confused, to respond to all of them, so I'm responding to just this one. Libertarians are about *everyone's* freedom. That includes the freedom to make stupid rules about the place you work. It also includes the freedom to leave that job and seek another. And the freedom to start your own business with the rules you want, with minimal barrier to entry.

    * There is no "right to profit." It is a straw man. You have property rights, so if you own a property, you can decide how that property is used. You can sell it, give it to someone to improve in exchange for something else (like money), decide that it may only be held by people wearing pink gloves, or whatever. I suspect you're confusing property rights with something you've imagined.

    * Someone else said that Libertarians aren't interested in anything but the government. Not true. To a libertarian, rights are sacrosanct. It doesn't matter who tramples those rights, it's considered wrong. The government just happens to be a major constituent responsible for infringing on individuals' rights, and so is a very common target for the discussion. And the government is in a special position where it has legal, if not moral, authority to infringe upon individuals' rights.

    * Someone else talks about a person that they got to admit to something they don't like, and this someone happened to be a libertarian. Well, boo hoo, but one person does not make for data.

    * Someone else confuses the transitive property. A is B, therefore B is A. This is not always true. The specific confusion is around a quote of "happy workers are productive workers" and the quoter talks about "were slaves happy?" Just because happy workers are productive workers does not mean all productive workers are happy workers. I doubt that anyone except the small minded and liars would make that claim.

    Now, speaking as a libertarian myself, I find this technology to be stupid, damaging to morale, and damaging to trust in the company that chooses to use it. I will not work for such a company under any circumstances that I can forsee. However, should a company choose to use this technology, I will not use force (of law) to stop them. They can have all the consequences that they deserve for what I see as a bad decision. They can deal with the low performance of a demoralized employee base. They can deal with high turnover to companies that trust their employees. They can deal with low institutional knowledge, for information lost due to turnover. They can deal with unhappy customers, due to all of the above. They can deal with lost profits due to unhappy customers. And with damage to their stock prices. And the owners can risk loss of their business, should it come to that.

    I also will not stop the employees from working there. The employees who choose to work there may decide that the costs of holding the job are less than the value that the job provides. That is their choice to make.

    I will not stop people from speaking out against the company. In fact, I may join them in their outcry.

    Here, you see a true libertarian's position, not all the made-up bull that you keep imagining.

  • Re: In otherwards (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rakarra (112805) on Monday February 03, 2014 @05:12PM (#46144343)

    Businesses who adopt "antiworker policies" will lose them to companies with better policies. (Until the government starts demanding all kinds of regulations that drive out competitive behavior...)

    Not that I'm a big fan of what unions turned into, but they arose precisely because the above is not what happened. Workers had no mobility at all, between jobs, between companies, they had no input on company rules, and that was the standard across industries. Feudalism is feudalism whether it's the lord that holds the reigns or the company.

    So indeed, I thank God for the unions back in those days -- they defused the situation, made conditions better, and the collapse that Karl Marx anticipated did not happen in the US as it did in Russia and other countries.

  • Re:In otherwards (Score:4, Insightful)

    by LifesABeach (234436) on Monday February 03, 2014 @05:33PM (#46144573)
    I have found that most Libertarians logic fails when laws are applied without conditions, and amendments.
  • by Sir_Eptishous (873977) on Monday February 03, 2014 @06:09PM (#46144965) Homepage
    Right, and they(the 1%) know that.

    That is why they have been successfully dismantling the unions in the US and the rest of the world since the 1980's. [motherjones.com]
    Unless more of this information comes to the forefront of American culture and Media, it will slide in "under the radar" and then it will be too late to bring back unions.
  • Re:In otherwards (Score:2, Insightful)

    by TsuruchiBrian (2731979) on Monday February 03, 2014 @06:14PM (#46145009)

    I'll bet I can find some "progressives" who would prefer rampant poverty for everyone over even the slightest bit of wealth inequality (e.g. they would prefer a world were everyone was as poor as the poorest person in the world currently to the one we have now).

    I don't see what this would prove. And I don't see what you are trying to prove either. That some libertarians are ideologues? There are ideologues for every ideology.

    There are left libertarians like Noam Chomsky. There are people who are heroes of the intellectual libertarianism like Milton Friedman who actually proposed the negative income tax as a way to eliminate poverty without removing the incentive to be self sufficient.

    It's easy to pick the dumbest people and hold them up as the paradigms of an ideology you disagree with, but it is not intellectually honest.

    I'll be the first person to say that there are a lot of selfish and dumb people who claim to be libertarians. But there are a lot of selfish and dumb people in general. I'm fine with calling those people out on their selfishness and stupidity, but I object to equating this juvenile point of view with libertarianism, just as you would probably object if I equated the mentality of person who only wants a free cell phone from Obama with the best liberalism has to offer.

  • Re: In otherwards (Score:5, Insightful)

    by geoskd (321194) on Monday February 03, 2014 @08:29PM (#46146035)

    Businesses who adopt "antiworker policies" will lose them to companies with better policies.

    That is simply not true. That would only be an accurate model of the real world if there was 0% unemployment. Here in the real world, your options are 1) Continue working for the abusive company that insist on 60+ hour work weeks from its "salaried" employees. 2) unemployment.

    I work for one of those hideously abusive companies. They didn't used ot be this way, but starting about 4 years ago (start of the great recession), they discovered that their employees would put up with all kinds of crap, and boy do they dish it out. My co-workers and I were effectively ordered to work 7 days straight, 12 hours per day for the last 2 months. The state I live in has weak labor laws, and the company believes it can do as it pleases. My fellow co-workers and I have been looking for other jobs for a few years now, but the market sucks. (BTW, all of us have at least a bachelors degree, mine is in engineering). There are thousands of jobs around here that pay minimum wage, but almost nothing paying any more than that. In the mean time, I have had my benefits effectively eliminated, all 401k matching eliminated, all pension contributions halted. I have effectively taken a 20% pay cut over the last 4 years. It wont take too much more before McDonalds will be competitive... In spite of all that, there are people lined up down the street for this job because minimum wage really is the only other thing available, and 10% unemployment guarantees that the employers can do any damn thing they want.

    Were it not for those pesky labor laws, I would have been unable to stop the mandatory unpaid overtime. I essentially refused to stay, and started going home after 10 hours, and refused to even show up on the 6th or 7th days. I have made it plain that there are limits, and almost dared them to make an issue out of it so that we can take the whole thing to court. The labor market is no longer a meeting of equals at the negotiating table. The corporations have all the power, and the only thing standing between the peoples of the world and slavery is the rule of law and regulation.

Be sociable. Speak to the person next to you in the unemployment line tomorrow.

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