The arrival of the dystopian workplace

1984 Big Brother

Maybe it’s because I’m currently reading 1984 by George Orwell on my Kindle – the first time I’ve read the book since the early 1980s – but this report in The Wall Street Journal that an IBM security tool can flag “disgruntled employees” struck me as a bit,  well, Orwellian.

[…] The new tool, called IBM Security Intelligence with Big Data, is designed to crunch decades worth of emails, financial transactions and website traffic, to detect patterns of security threats and fraud. Beyond its more conventional threat prevention applications, the new platform, based on Hadoop, a framework that processes data-intensive queries across clusters of computers, will allow CIOs to conduct sentiment analysis on employee emails to determine which employees are likely to leak company data, [Sandy Bird, chief technology officer of IBM’s security systems division] said. That capability will look at the difference between how an employee talks about work with a colleague and how that employee discusses work on public social media platforms, flagging workers who may be nursing grudges and are more likely to divulge company information. “By analyzing email you can say this guy is a disgruntled employee and the chance that he would be leaking data would be greater,” Mr Bird said of IBM’s new tool.

Computer software that predicts or suggests human behaviour in a workplace could have immense value in their function  of crunching data to enable the humans to make the judgements.

[…] For example, a company could analyze employee emails that express a positive sentiment to a manager at work, but detect “when he’s talking to a peer or someone outside the company, the sentiment comes out a little different,” Mr. Bird said.  Such a pattern, combined with other factors, could cause an employee to be flagged for more investigation by an IT team.

Yet if a tool such as IBM’s makes it faster, cheaper and more efficient to get to a conclusion, then I can see the time when crucial decisions about you and what you have said are made by a computer.

Inevitable dystopia? Discuss!

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Stuart Bruce

    Reminds me of a presentation I saw by Coca-Cola. I’m paraphrasing from memory, but basocally it used an internal social network to engage with UK employees for its sponsorship of the Olympics. All sounded great with lots of activity and 94% of employees “engaging positively”. The alarming bit was when we were told “we know who the negative 6% were and have told their managers!”

  2. When robots rule the world

    […] about other people’s intentions in the workplace that I wrote about recently – an IBM security tool can flag “disgruntled employees” – may be the tip of an evolutionary iceberg that spotlights a wider and deeper issue facing […]

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