At this very moment, it is estimated that around 130,000 people within the UK are being monitored by artificial intelligence in a bid to ‘boost productivity’ according to their employers.  Most are being monitored by the growing Isaak system designed by London company Status Today. It is the latest example of a trend that uses algorithms to manage people and is designed in such a way to rank employees attributes.

Social affairs journalist Robert Booth said “The system shows bosses how collaborative workers are and whether they are “influencers” or “change-makers. The computer can compare activity data with qualitative assessments of workers from personnel files or sales performance figures to give managers a detailed picture of how behaviour affects output.”

A variety of companies are apparently currently using the system including five law firms, a training company and an estate agency. Workers do not automatically have a right to see the data, which is controlled by the employer.

It has unsurprisingly had mixed reactions, with many concerned about the systems effect on staff mental health.

Ursula Huws, a professor of labour and globalisation at the University of Hertfordshire said “People are deemed not to be working if they take their hands off the keyboard for five minutes. But they could be thinking, and that doesn’t get measured. What is this doing for innovation, which needs creative workers?”

Chief executive of Status Today Ankur Modi defended his system by stating that it aimed to provide a “wellbeing analysis” that could detect overwork – for example at evenings and weekends. But he did admit: “there’s always a risk that it might be misused”. He acknowledged that mental health was a legitimate concern and that companies could potentially use it to only boost productivity, without focusing on wellbeing.

“If one salesperson is performing well and you can see overwork and another isn’t performing well and isn’t overworked, that could be enough to start a conversation,” he said.

Modi argued that the system could help bosses cut out bias and discrimination by removing subjectivity from management decisions.