The Borg, Cont.


Microsoft is facing criticism for its new “Productivity Score” technology, which can measure how much individual workers use email, chat and other digital tools. But it turns out the company has even bigger ideas for using technology to monitor workers in the interest of maximizing organizational productivity.

Newly surfaced Microsoft patent filings describe a system for deriving and predicting “overall quality scores” for meetings using data such as body language, facial expressions, room temperature, time of day, and number of people in the meeting. The system uses cameras, sensors, and software tools to determine, for example, “how much a participant contributes to a meeting vs performing other tasks (e.g., texting, checking email, browsing the Internet).”

The “meeting insight computing system” would then predict the likelihood that a group will hold a high-quality meeting. It would flag potential challenges when an organizer is setting the meeting up, and recommend alternative venues, times, or people to include in the meeting, for example.

There’s not a lot of mystery here: Never convene an important meeting Friday after lunch. You don’t need a lot of software to learn that, and every manager already knows it. But the thing to consider here is the new invasion of privacy aspect: you’re not just being monitored, you’re being scored.

Everyone has been in a meeting that could have been handled by email. It’s a virtual guarantee that workers will multi-task or otherwise become anxious and want to get back to their deadlines. Now imagine being punished for going to a pointless meeting?

And trust me on this: if you have a malignant manager, that info will be used against you.

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18 Responses to The Borg, Cont.

  1. beckymaenot says:

    Not for nothin’ but I have never been so grateful to be older than most of my coworkers. I keep up with technology and I am happy to know that I will be aging out to retirement when this kind of bullshit becomes the norm. Jeebus- MS Teams activity marker is already super invasive and annoying and also inaccurate. Uhg- just what our corporate overlords need- MORE tools to keep us under their thumb. I’ve heard a few people complaining about bosses who want them livestreaming while they work from home so the supervisor can check up on them. Those are the asshole bosses who will use that meeting info against you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • R White says:

      Scary, but makes sense with such outdated american corporations. The inept C-suite class of managers think that our current vulture based capitalist consumer economy can continue on indefinitely as long as workers are ‘true believers’ and focus only on the health and welfare of the corporation.

      As an older worker myself, it is a daily challenge In and of itself to stay ‘current’ and on-top of ever-changing software that is really an excuse for software engineers to stay busy. And don’t even get me started on the difficulties of trying to communicate in normal terms with attention deprived millennials.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. lofgren says:

    My phone keeps alerting me that my password is not strong enough to safely store my credit cards on it, which means that I can’t make one-click purchase through my Samsung account, which I never set up and do not want. This is a really important matter that requires my attention at least once a day. That I may not be interested in buying items from Samsung, and that if I were I would be willing to type in the credit card information by hand, and that having a simpler password for unlocking my phone is an entirely valid tradeoff, does not seem to have occurred to them.

    This whole system strikes me as very similar. They are developing technology for “quality” meetings because they can, without regard for how much it will actually improve the quality of meetings, and will inevitably end up making meetings even more of a waste of time than they already are. They will make millions of dollars making meetings less useful, and when meetings get worse the people who bought this system will pay even more because they clearly have not given enough money to Microsoft since the infrared cameras keep saying that employees are bored while the boss is talking, and that can’t be right. Another $5,000,000 contract should make the boss a truly great manager who everybody wants to hear from all the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Are there more than four participants?
    Are there a multiple topics on the agenda?
    Is there a Wally involved?
    Is there a Pointy-Haired Boss involved?

    Then no, you are not going to have a ‘quality’ meeting. Pay me 5 billyun quatloos, Microsoft…there’s your ‘algorithm’ …

    My group has used Teams from the moment we were able to We had been using Lync Persistent Chat and switched to Teams about 3 microseconds after trying it.

    Sadly, and entirely predictably (because we are Serious Information Technology Professionals, after all), the biggest selling point was the Giphy integration…:-)

    But we’re already saddled with a PHB who thinks if we’re not here we’re not working, so I can absolutely see him loving this.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Ten Bears says:

    Gotta’ find something to keep the middle managers busy.

    [So I actually stopped a long time ago but] I have been trying for years to hack that little guy, make him say what I want him to say. Einstein would be even better. That script might be M$ best kept secret.

    Seriously, middle-managers need to earn their keep too, if only as voyeurs.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Infidel753 says:

    They keep coming up with ways to make the work environment even more miserable. Early retirement keeps looking better and better.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Steve-O says:

    I wonder what they’d read into me holding up one middle finger all day?

    Liked by 2 people

  7. CalicoJack says:

    Howdy y’all!

    This sounds like the Hawthorne effect on social media steroids, meaning, it will not improve productivity. If you tell meeting members that their “score” will improve the more they contribute, i.e. speak, and decrease the more they use their phones and computers, then you’ll get people talking for no other reason than to improve their score and not checking their devices for important information that could be used during the meeting. Great. People are predictable. They’ll play by the rules and chafe under unreasonable requirements and invasive monitoring. Everybody loves having their bathroom breaks timed, after all.

    Meetings are difficult to make productive, but you know who is responsible for making a meeting productive? Managers. You know who isn’t being rated and scored by this? Managers. Because the problem with meetings is attendees squirreling off on their devices to skylark on email and the Internet.


    Liked by 2 people

    • MDavis says:

      Hawthorne effect, new term.
      The way I heard it is “be careful what metrics you use, because whatever you reward will increase.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Like when the programmers were rewarded real money for every bug they found…bugs multiplied like rabbits, amazingly enough 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      • MDavis says:

        I didn’t know what the Hawthorne effect was. Something about workers working harder when they know they are being watched, apparently, although the Hawthorne study was looking for efficiency.
        So I think the Hawthorne effect is somewhere between the “you get what you have metrics for” and Schrodinger’s metrics.


      • CalicoJack says:

        Howdy M!

        The problem with rewards is that the person being rewarded has to realize that they’re being rewarded. I can’t imagine anyone on the receiving end of most of these metrics for good meetings will feel rewarded even if they get a high score.


        Liked by 1 person

      • MDavis says:

        Thus the only reward is sticking thumbs in the eye of the system, sort of thing.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. David L Keller says:

    This idea is so wrong that I don’t have enough time nor the space in this box to list all the wrongness. Between bad meetings and COVID, I’m not sure which will kill more people.


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