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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 @11:49AM (#46141457)

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

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

      by mhajicek (1582795) on Monday February 03, 2014 @11:56AM (#46141577)
      Get ready for your new Terrafoam domecile.
      • Re:In otherwards (Score:5, Insightful)

        by buswolley (591500) on Monday February 03, 2014 @12:46PM (#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 @12:53PM (#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.

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

          by ultranova (717540) on Monday February 03, 2014 @01:03PM (#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, Interesting)

            by sqrt(2) (786011) on Monday February 03, 2014 @01:20PM (#46142651) Journal

            I've mostly stopped typing out my own rebuttals and just started linking to the specific part of my .sig that addresses whatever particular libertarian fallacy someone is invoking. Rarely do I need to go offscript, and even more rarely is a competent rebuttal offered that doesn't distill down to a simple difference in values. Libertarians are, at heart, corporate fascists. They are simply working from a different value system--a horrifyingly barbarous one.

            You can consider the debate over when you get them to affirm their subscription to the unadulterated version of those beliefs. For example, I've cornered one before and forced them to admit that rampant poverty is preferable to even a small amount of taxation to alleviate it.

            I'll give them credit for their absolute devotion to ideological purity. That's real devotion.

            • I've cornered one before and forced them to admit that rampant poverty is preferable to even a small amount of taxation to alleviate it.

              Just out of curiousity, how would you manage to have "rampant poverty" that "a small amount of taxation" could alleviate?

              An actual example would do, or even a reasonable hypothetical. With numbers, of course. It's easy to handwave situations when you don't have any numbers behind your assertions.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Psyborgue (699890)
            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 s
            • Re:In otherwards (Score:5, Insightful)

              by sqrt(2) (786011) on Monday February 03, 2014 @01:33PM (#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.

              • Calm down (Score:5, Insightful)

                by sjbe (173966) on Monday February 03, 2014 @02:56PM (#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:Calm down (Score:4, Interesting)

                  by Electricity Likes Me (1098643) on Monday February 03, 2014 @05:17PM (#46145041)

                  Sure you can force someone to be productive under miserable conditions but you can get terrific productivity as well by treating your employees nicely.

                  Actually you really can't - its a policing fallacy. People count the costs of welfare, but don't count the costs of their police force.

                  Similarly, a part of that "force people to be productive" is paying a whole bunch of managers to stand around and bear over them.

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

              by morgauxo (974071) on Monday February 03, 2014 @01:52PM (#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:5, Interesting)

              by jader3rd (2222716) on Monday February 03, 2014 @01:56PM (#46143071)

              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.

              My in-laws were shocked to learn that my employer doesn't ban digital frames in the office. The reason is because my father-in-laws employer (Boeing) does (or at least did at the time). Apparently some bean counter calculated that if every employee brought in a digital frame into the workplace it would cost the company X many dollars. So they banned them. I asked about employee moral, etc, and my father-in-law looked at me and said "Where else would they go?"

            • You've obviously never had to deal with MBA holding managers that have an extreme hard-on for six sigma metrics.

            • You seem to think that workers are free to change jobs, as though each employer has an infinite supply.
              Jobs are limited. The one business would have a massive advantage in hiring, but wouldn't need to (or be able to) hire everyone else. Jobs aren't like commodity goods, where you can simply change to a different supplier if you're not satisfied with the current one. Also, there's significant risk and expense in switching jobs.
          • by Belial6 (794905)
            I would say that anyone who believes in corporations isn't really a libertarian, as a corporation is just a government granting of special privileges. Those privileges are a major part of what gives corporations undue power of employees.
          • Re:In otherwards (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Khashishi (775369) on Monday February 03, 2014 @02:51PM (#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.

        • by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Monday February 03, 2014 @03:52PM (#46144133)

          Tyranny by government dictators: Bad.
          Tyranny by corporate dictators: Good.

          Any questions?

    • Hitachi has invented the RoboToady. now, the only reason to keep brownnoses around is to fill out the foursome at golf.

    • by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Monday February 03, 2014 @12:06PM (#46141703)

      It just takes micromanagement to an entirely new level.

      Considering the chip die sizes involved, it's probably better to call to call it nano-management.

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

      by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Monday February 03, 2014 @12:31PM (#46141997) Homepage Journal

      Wait, wait, I know this one! [wikipedia.org] Ah, nothing like innovations in management to remind you that a dystopia is always possible. Anyone who hasn't read Manna, go do it! It is worth it.

      It's too bad so much iconic dystopic science fiction was written or cinematized in the 80s (Nineteen Eighty-Four and Bladerunner, to name but two film examples), since it means that all you need to trick people into thinking it's impossible is a bright and cheery computer interface.

      • I don't know whether to thank you, or curse you!
        I went to the author's page and read "Manna" just now, and the first half of that book scared me tremendously(more than any other sci-fi work I have ever experienced), then the second half was soul-tearing.

        What I mean by soul-tearing, is seeing the possibilities in the Australia Project, and loving the whole concept...at the same time knowing it could probably never happen on this planet.

        Too many entrenched entities(gov't. and corp) would see this as a worse c

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

      by Joce640k (829181) on Monday February 03, 2014 @12:42PM (#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 TWiTfan (2887093) on Monday February 03, 2014 @11:50AM (#46141487)

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

  • by mtrachtenberg (67780) on Monday February 03, 2014 @11:51AM (#46141495) Homepage

    In related news, I am pleased to announce my new "virtual slave" hardware, which intercepts communication from the "Virtual Boss" device to PHBServer and provides an excellent replacement stream of communication indicating you always participate in meetings, visit precisely three fellow employees for ten minutes each day, and never go to the bathroom. ("Virtual Slave eXtreme" will be available soon, with many customization options.)

  • by cayenne8 (626475) on Monday February 03, 2014 @11:52AM (#46141501) Homepage Journal
    ...Fuck THAT!!

    Or...Take this job and shove it.

    Way too intrusive....treat people like adults, and only punish those that cannot act like an adult, but don't punish and track everyone else that is getting their job done.

  • by Adeptus_Luminati (634274) on Monday February 03, 2014 @11:52AM (#46141507)

    .... I quit. I for one, do not welcome our Orwellian overlords.

    • by meta-monkey (321000) on Monday February 03, 2014 @12:44PM (#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.

  • Misunderstood? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AmiMoJo (196126) * <mojo@NOspAm.world3.net> on Monday February 03, 2014 @11:52AM (#46141509) Homepage

    Japanese companies have tried stuff like this before, but not so that bosses can harass their employees. They genuinely want to know how to make the business better by finding out how people actually work... You know, like a good boss should.

    Obviously the potential for abuse is massive, but I think the article author is projecting their own thinking on to this idea. Aside from anything else abusing it would probably be illegal under Japanese law, as it would be in most European countries.

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

      by Opportunist (166417) on Monday February 03, 2014 @12:03PM (#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:4, Insightful)

        by AmiMoJo (196126) * <mojo@NOspAm.world3.net> on Monday February 03, 2014 @12:26PM (#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:Misunderstood? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by i kan reed (749298) on Monday February 03, 2014 @12:06PM (#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.

      • by Gramie2 (411713)
        Agreed I was working for Japanese companies (in Japan) for seven years, and it was soul-destroying.
      • Re:Misunderstood? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Princeofcups (150855) <john@princeofcups.com> on Monday February 03, 2014 @01:05PM (#46142427) Homepage

        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.

        Several points:
        1 - These studies usually look at general office workers, like public service or marketing departments, where there is no real way to gauge competence. So people think they need to put on the APPEARANCE of working 12 hour days to advance.
        2 - These workers also SLEEP at their desks. That's right. It's not about actually doing productive work. Many young Japanese workers stay up all night, catch a few winks on the train, and a nap or two at work.
        3 - People often take 2 hour lunch breaks to do shopping or whatever. It's all about arriving before the boss, and leaving after him.
        4 - Respectable tech jobs are no better or worse than they are in the US. People generally work overtime when needed, but at enjoyable work.

        This is the same as the statistics that said that Japanese live ridiculously long. It turns out that the general practice is to lie about age of death to get more government money. There's what people tell you, and reality, and they can be very different.

    • It will be hailed as the greatest invention since the Blackberry. All those useless drones who aren't working every second of their 40 hours and take more than their "fair" share of the free coffee will finally pay! I can even be used to make sure people get truly "fair" pay, "You were here for 50 hours this week but you only really 'worked' for 39 of them...no overtime for you!"

      I can see this not only becoming standard in most workplaces and probably even made mandatory in a few states (with appropriate e

  • I mean really, most people would take the badge off before sitting down at their desk.
    • by Jason Levine (196982) on Monday February 03, 2014 @12:14PM (#46141803)

      I can see the reports now:

      Employee report #27135: "Employee arrived in the office, turned on their computer, and then crammed himself into a small drawer in his desk for the duration of the work day. He didn't move during this time except to climb out for meetings. Employee emerged from his desk at the end of the day."

      Employee report #27136: "After speaking with four other employees in an energetic fashion regarding the new tracking systems, these employees went to the restroom and proceeded to flush themselves down the toilet. It might be worth noting that, following this, unknown individuals sent e-mails from these employees computers insulting their managers, most of HR, and the company executives. These unknown individuals then noted that the flushed employees had quit. As the unknown individuals didn't seem to be wearing tracking badges, it is not known what happened to them next. They either left or are living in the ventilation ducts."

  • by korbulon (2792438) on Monday February 03, 2014 @11:53AM (#46141533)
    "Employees appeared to slowly converge on the toilets throughout the morning, where they remained for a few minutes before departing the building and eventually arriving to the nearest large body of water, where they remained for the rest of the day."
  • I'd just leave in at my desk in a drawer most likely. If I actually worked for a company that tried to implement that, you can guarantee my resume would be going at either at EOD or lunchtime. If your company is suffering because of lack of productivity, the problem might lie with the workers. It probably lies with their boss. Either way, micromanaging 98% of workers* is counterproductive. Much more effective to hire competent, motivated people in the first place and/or replace the people managing them.
    • Are there sensors that can measure height? If so, you can really mess with them by hanging the badge from the ceiling. "Employee seems to enjoy clinging to the ceiling for the entire workday."

  • by handy_vandal (606174) on Monday February 03, 2014 @12:01PM (#46141643) Homepage Journal
    "It looks like you're trying to Fire A Subordinate. Would you like me to call Security?"
  • Manna (Score:5, Informative)

    by tlhIngan (30335) <.slashdot. .at. .worf.net.> on Monday February 03, 2014 @12:04PM (#46141675)

    It seems like more people should take a read of Marshall Brain's Manna [wikipedia.org], a book about this very thing. (Online version [marshallbrain.com]).

    It goes into what could happen (and given current economics, the rest of us are housed in tiny apartments to keep the away from the owners). And yet, it also details an alternative view where automation is NOT shunned, but instead used to fulfill what people originally dreamed them to do - do all the chores while the humans relax, or speculate, or invent, or do other things.

    Quite an informative read if you have a couple of hours.

    • Re:Manna (Score:4, Insightful)

      by meta-monkey (321000) on Monday February 03, 2014 @12:31PM (#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 Opportunist (166417) on Monday February 03, 2014 @12:11PM (#46141775)

    No, I don't mean "doing their job". I mean they will start to game the system. People who want to slack off have been very inventive and creative when it comes to slacking, so this will be no different. They will come up with ways to tweak that. Don't want to go to a boring meeting? Let a coworker take your badge along. He'll do it for you next time and everyone's happy.

    Of course this does not increase productivity, but rather decrease it for the necessary overhead involved to game the system. But hey, I didn't come up with the idea, management gets what management wants, and if they want me to spend time fucking with their spying system rather than work so my "characteristic figures" look the way they should, I give them what they want.

    For reference, see the success of the "how many keystrokes did the programmer make today" for measuring the productivity of programmers creating code. It's not that much different from this junk.

  • by meta-monkey (321000) on Monday February 03, 2014 @12:13PM (#46141789) Journal

    It needs a speaker, too.

    "Attention worker #47293, you have exceeded your pooping allotment for the day. Exit the stall and proceed back to your desk. Thank you for your compliance."

  • by Subgenius (95662) on Monday February 03, 2014 @12:13PM (#46141799) Homepage

    True story: My CEO (US company, California) tasked me to install 3 motion-detection CCTV cameras at all of our remote staff locations (3 part timers, in their homes, in eastern Europe), and then review the footage daily to determine if they 'were at their posts' during working hours (and did not take 'too many' breaks during the day). Of course, the reason for this was to 'make sure we are getting what we paid for.' I'm glad this device was not around last year (or will be very expensive THIS year).

    No, I did not install the cameras, I just let the issue die. (still have a job, too).

    • Last two companies most of the dev staffs have worked from home. Some have been in other states. But it was software and we could track things like did we make milestones, how often and what did they check into the repository, etc.. They were, however, all salaried. Frankly I never cared if it took them 4 hours or 8 hours to solve a problem or add feature so long as it was delivered on time according to what the project needed.

      The other rule was quite simple: If the phone rings between 9AM and 5PM offic

  • Alternately... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Somebody Is Using My (985418) on Monday February 03, 2014 @12:54PM (#46142303) Homepage

    The virtual boss will see - contrary to what the eyes of the real bosses tell them - employees who never get up from their desks, never go to the bathroom, and never hang around in the break room... because those badges are left behind on the desk all the time whenever the employees get up from their desks, go to the bathroom, and hang around the break room.

    Because employees will quickly learn to "game" the system, rendering the whole thing useless.

    Hell, most of the time those badges aren't even necessary to get into the office, since somebody inevitably will open the door [pacifict.com] for you. And inevitably the employees are going to discover that their badges are ratting them out.

    Not that any of this matters. This is just another way for managers to collect "metrics" on their staff, to prove with the magic of numbers that their staff is working, rather than - oh, I don't know - looking to see if the work is actually getting done. But the latter would actually require the managers to understand what their reports are doing, and that requires knowledge and effort on their part. Better to just rely on computers to create a useless spreadsheet that they can point to during the yearly reviews.

  • by mbone (558574) on Monday February 03, 2014 @01:11PM (#46142519)

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

  • by hey! (33014) on Monday February 03, 2014 @01:14PM (#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 ledow (319597) on Monday February 03, 2014 @01:44PM (#46142947) Homepage

    A "perfect" boss does not need to instruct workers to wear a badge, need to know who you talk to, how often, where or how energetically, need to track everything, need to know how often / fast you walk around an office, who (or indeed) how much you stop to talk to.

    Because he doesn't hire fecking idiots who he thinks need to be babysat by metrics in order to do their job. And he trusts them as professionals. And only needs bother even investigate if there are specific allegations or failings that he becomes aware of (and he WILL become aware of them if he's any kind of decent boss).

    It's shit like that that propagates that entire fake management crap.

    If you ever consider any of these things metrics even WORTH bothering to measure, you're a fecking idiot of a boss.

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