Humanoid Resource Management

13 April 2011 at 3:18 pm 6 comments

| Peter Klein |

I can’t quite tell if this “Schumpeter” column, urging management scholars to think more carefully about “homo-robo relations,” is meant to be taken seriously. It gave me a few chuckles, anyway.

Until now executives have largely ignored robots, regarding them as an engineering rather than a management problem. This cannot go on: robots are becoming too powerful and ubiquitous. Companies may need to rethink their strategies as they gain access to these new sorts of workers. Do they really need to outsource production to China, for example, when they have clever machines that work ceaselessly without pay? They certainly need to rethink their human-resources policies — starting by questioning whether they should have departments devoted to purely human resources.

And what about robo-agency theory? Can robots be programmed to be intrinsically motivated — finally rendering certain management theories intelligible — or do they respond to incentives in a predictable way? Are they risk averse? Will they behave opportunistically? Can they be “nudged” by clever behavioral economists?

Actually the article does make some serious points, e.g., economists and management scholars should prepare for an onslaught of neo-Luddite, anti-automation, protectionist gibberish about robots “taking away our jobs.” (Maybe if they’re domestically made robots it will be OK?)

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Management Theory, Myths and Realities.

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. srp  |  13 April 2011 at 5:47 pm

    No robot will ever be able to alternately bore, terrorize, and disgust a class as well as a human professor. So we’re all safe.

  • 2. Randy  |  14 April 2011 at 10:39 am

    @srp: I am reasonably certain that a robot can bore a class as completely as I can. I am less confident that a robot can terrorize as well as I (unless it is programmed with multiple voices). But I can always trump the robot for disgust, embarrassment, and forgetfulness. And your point about alternative states of nature is spot on. Robots are by definition less mercurial.

  • 3. Roundup April 16 at Catallaxy Files  |  16 April 2011 at 12:22 am

    […] Managing robots. […]

  • 4. Michael Marotta  |  16 April 2011 at 6:25 pm

    “Robots taking away our jobs” goes back to before the 1990s. From 1991-1993, I worked for Kawasaki Robotics (USA). Then – as before and now – the installation of so-called “intelligent workstations” created jobs for some, while destroying jobs for others, a process known for 1000 years or more. The printing press made life hard for scribes, but easy for authors.

  • 5. jccavalcanti  |  17 April 2011 at 7:09 am

    Dear Peter Klein,
    I think nowadays there is a good reason why we may see several homo-robo relation initiatives: we are in a “Cambrian Explositon of Robotic Life” (see my paper in the Canadian Journal Management Science and Engineering: Best regards, José Carlos Cavalcanti (

  • 6. da99  |  3 July 2011 at 2:46 am

    If you gave the robots a non-humanoid appearance, maybe people will avoid supporting protectionism. Most people did not make a fuss about Macs and IBM PCs in the 80s since they appeared like appliances dependent on human operators.

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