Image of a person looking through binoculars (image from Flickr:

The news: Google has applied for a patent that is a “method and system for automating work pattern quantification.”  (Google) translation –

Big Brother Boss is watching you: Google is proposing to turn every computer keystroke into a metric that, when combined with other electronic ‘sensor data’ will compile an employee ‘focus metric’.  It appears Google is intending to sell this software to employers as a ‘productivity tool’.

Weapons of Mass Observation: Google is proposing to weaponise, sorry utilise, regular office tools in the long march for improved productivity. What else will this algorithm capture? Email use, wifi access, words generated in documents, time and duration of coffee breaks, phone use, internet searches? Google’s ‘magic’ algorithm will do the math and provide recommendations to increase productivity.

What it means: Are we heading into a future where workers will have their daily work practices dictated by an algorithm? One that is owned and moderated by one of the world’s largest companies? And what is an accurate measure of productivity for a knowledge worker? More: emails, words typed per minute, articles, meetings attended? Sometimes less (output) is more (in terms of quality, revision of work, focus on a difficult task).

The benefits of boredom: Research into brain activity has shown not only does daydreaming help people complete tasks more quickly but simply being bored helps people problem solve, be more creative and plan for the future. Surely a daydreaming algorithm can’t be far away?

Listen to Sandra and Kai discuss this story on The Future This Week

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Sydney Business Insights is a University of Sydney Business School initiative aiming to provide the business community and public, including our students, alumni and partners with a deeper understanding of major issues and trends around the future of business.

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