I’m here to ask the ques­tion and to encour­age you to ask the ques­tion, are there any lim­its to the con­nect­ed work­place? Are there any con­cerns about the con­nect­ed work­place? Is there any way in which you wouldn’t want either your­self or an employ­ee to be con­nect­ed? Are there any lim­its to the kinds of infor­ma­tion we can gath­er in order to make our work­forces more pro­duc­tive? In order to make our over­all soci­ety more pro­duc­tive?

How many of you wear a wear­able device? Like an Apple watch, a Fitbit, any­thing else? A few of you. How many of you at some point in time have tried one? So, those num­bers are grow­ing quite a bit. If you ask a group that is younger—no offense to all of you—the num­bers would be even high­er. Because peo­ple are start­ing to be far more con­nect­ed. They’re far more com­fort­able shar­ing infor­ma­tion about them­selves to cor­po­ra­tions in order to learn more about them­selves.

The rev­o­lu­tion in con­sumer health­care is upon us already, where peo­ple want to know more about them­selves, they want to learn more. But for now, most of that infor­ma­tion is infor­ma­tion they believe that they have con­trol over. That they’re choos­ing will­ing­ly to share. That they’re decid­ing how much and when to share, or at the very least that it’s anonymized infor­ma­tion that can’t nec­es­sar­i­ly be used against them. 

But already, that isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly true in the way some of these tech­nolo­gies are being used in the work­force. Some of you may be famil­iar with Tesco. Tesco has a num­ber of dif­fer­ent cor­po­ra­tions. The one we’re going to talk about is in their gro­cery ware­hous­ing in Ireland, where they use sim­ple arm­bands that they imple­ment­ed in 2013 in order to improve work­force pro­duc­tiv­i­ty.

The arm­bands tracked move­ment through­out the ware­house such that they could tell when an employ­ee picked up some­thing from one place, moved it to anoth­er place, for pur­pos­es of ful­fill­ing in order. The won­der­ful thing about this was the employ­ees no longer need­ed to log the prod­ucts that they were pick­ing up and mov­ing. They were being auto­mat­i­cal­ly logged for them, which increased the effi­cien­cy and the time with which they could do so. It allowed bet­ter track­ing of inven­to­ry. It was done on an indi­vid­ual basis—it’s still done on an indi­vid­ual basis—and it allowed them to take time for cof­fee breaks, for bio­log­i­cal breaks. But if they took an unsched­uled break, it would be count­ed against their pro­duc­tiv­i­ty. And their indi­vid­ual pro­duc­tiv­i­ty was mea­sured, and their indi­vid­ual pro­duc­tiv­i­ty was the basis for deter­min­ing their com­pen­sa­tion and their over­all advance­ments.

There was an uproar by the employ­ees. They felt like this was Big Brother watch­ing them. And they real­ly didn’t like it, even though in many ways it did make their jobs eas­i­er. They didn’t have to car­ry the clip­board around any­more. They didn’t have to mark every­thing from place to place. But they didn’t like the sense in which even their bath­room breaks were being tracked. Well too bad, you might think. They shouldn’t be tak­ing unsched­uled breaks. It’s bet­ter for work­force pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, but is it bet­ter for morale? Is it bet­ter for indi­vid­u­als to feel as if their every move­ment is scru­ti­nized? Does it improve our expe­ri­ence in the work­place? Does it improve our expe­ri­ence as a soci­ety?

Well, why not just quit and go work some­where else? Why work at Tesco? Well, it turns out a lot of the peo­ple who are work­ing in some­where like a ware­house don’t have ter­rif­ic job mobil­i­ty. And once it becomes a more ubiq­ui­tous prac­tice, to what extent do they have the option to be able to say, I no longer wish to work here. I’m going to go work some­where else instead?”

What you see here is some­thing called a SmartCap. The SmartCap goes to the next lev­el of mea­sur­ing what indi­vid­u­als are doing with respect to pro­duc­tiv­i­ty in that it mea­sures the fir­ing of neu­rons in your brain, and the tiny elec­tri­cal dis­charges that occur as a result of those fir­ings. The fir­ing of elec­trons in your brain hap­pen in pat­terns based on dif­fer­ent emo­tive states that you might expe­ri­ence, dif­fer­ent cog­ni­tive states, or for exam­ple the state of being alert and awake, or being asleep. Even microsleep is some­thing that we may be able to cap­ture via EEG. And SmartCaps are able to detect not only motor activ­i­ty, but these dif­fer­ent emo­tive states. And already sports teams are start­ing to use them to be able to track indi­vid­ual per­for­mance, and to be able to enhance indi­vid­ual per­for­mance so much that the base­ball team anal­o­gy that you heard ear­li­er— This is some­thing that’s already being used.

But of course it isn’t just being used by sports teams. It has tremen­dous poten­tial, and already has been shown to sub­stan­tial­ly reduce the cost of acci­dents. One of the lead­ing cause of acci­dents in the world is drowsy, not drunk, dri­ving. And sure­ly you want indi­vid­u­als who are drowsy while dri­ving to be alert­ed to that. To be wok­en up to, be giv­en a mes­sage. And we already have lots of tech­nol­o­gy that’s inte­grat­ed. For exam­ple, Mercedes has Driver Assistance. If you start to veer off the road a lit­tle bit, if you start to make lit­tle micro changes in the way that you’re using your steer­ing wheel, you are alert­ed to that fact. 

And so how is that dif­fer­ent? Well, part of the way it’s dif­fer­ent is that your brain was sacred. It was the last and final fron­tier. I can’t tell what you’re think­ing oth­er than to guess by look­ing at your faces right now, but soon, with these types of devices, these EEG SmartCap devices that have many appli­ca­tions beyond mere drowsi­ness, we can start to track things like whether you’re drowsy or alert. Which times of day you’re most pro­duc­tive. When you’re pay­ing atten­tion, and when you’re not. What you’re focus­ing on on the screen when you’re focus­ing. Whether or not you’re start­ing to suf­fer from cog­ni­tive decline. Whether you have signs of ear­ly demen­tia. Whether or not you’re start­ing to become a very expen­sive per­son to employ at a com­pa­ny.

And there’s noth­ing that pro­tects you, in any coun­try, against this type of infor­ma­tion being used against you by an employ­er. In the United States we have some­thing called the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which pro­tects indi­vid­u­als from hav­ing their employ­ers col­lect their genet­ic infor­ma­tion and use that infor­ma­tion against them. There is no Neurological Information Nondiscrimination Act or its equiv­a­lent, in the United States or in any oth­er coun­try. And yet your brain holds so much greater poten­tial for being able to learn things about you.

There is no such thing as cog­ni­tive lib­er­ty. There is no such thing as a tru­ly pro­tect­ed free­dom of thought. But maybe there should be. Because these devices are already in the work­place, and we might fear, up until now, that the pri­ma­ry tools of our oppres­sion might be gov­ern­ments, but what if it ulti­mate­ly is in the work­place? What if the last bas­tion of free­dom, your brain, is no longer so free after all? What if what we’re real­ly talk­ing about is the total end of pri­va­cy?

Well, you’ll say, Privacy is gone already. It’s alright.” But wasn’t your brain the one area in which you thought you would always have some sense of pri­va­cy? And com­pa­nies will say they will not see your data, they’ll aggre­gate it. And yet already we see that rather than just hav­ing some­thing like peo­ple ana­lyt­ics” that looks at how peo­ple inter­act with each oth­er, we’re look­ing at how indi­vid­ual employ­ees per­form. And that has great promise. It’s ter­rif­ic to be able to find the weak­est link. That has great promise that with the right bound­aries can help us have more effec­tive work­places, but also ones with cul­tures that we want to embrace.

Is it only that we’re going to look at what’s hap­pen­ing? Could we also encour­age indi­vid­u­als to start doing things like enhance their brains? Could we ask them to take things like smart pills and smart med­ica­tions? If you’re drowsy while dri­ving, should you take some­thing like Modafinil in order to improve your wake­ful­ness? If you’re on a 48-hour shift as a physi­cian, should you take a wake­ful­ness drug, and is your fail­ure to do so neg­li­gence? We already see on Wall Street that there is ram­pant use of drugs. We see it across law firms across the world. We see it at the high­est per­for­mance lev­els. Is it some­thing your employ­er can ask you to do?

Ultimately this is a ques­tion not just about the pro­duc­tiv­i­ty of our work­force, but about the cul­ture of our work­force and our soci­ety. We have to ask if there are any lim­its. Are there any reg­u­la­tions? Are there any norms that we wish to adopt to ensure that these great promis­es in the future, these great promis­es that are at our doorstep and in our com­pa­nies today—, if there are any lim­its that we wish to place to ensure that there’s a bal­ance between max­i­miz­ing pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and ensur­ing that it’s a soci­ety and a cul­ture that we want to live in. Thank you. 

Further Reference

Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2016 at the World Economic Forum site


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