BOFH: Come on, PFY, let's pick a Boss

Robot intelligence not there yet... but neither is Boss intelligence


Episode 12 "I don't think your reviews are overly helpful," the Director sulks.

"What do you mean? We read the resumes, attended the interviews; we asked some questions!"

"I'm referring to your comments on the candidates."

"Which ones?" I ask.

"All of them!"

It's appointments time again and we're looking for a new Boss after the last one raced out his full height second floor window on a wheely chair. Why he did that is anyone's guess, as is how the PFY's footprint happened to be on the back of the aforementioned chair.

Some things you just can't explain.

In any case it seems you can get PTSD from a violent pneumatic ram insertion and the former Boss has retired early on medical grounds.

The Director, meantime, has read some HR blog that says it's good to get the input of the direct reports when recruiting new middle management and included the PFY and myself in the appointments process.

"All of them?" the PFY asks.

"Yes."

"What was wrong?" I ask.

"This one," the Director responds, pointing at a note in the margin of a resume. "You wrote: 'Can't even spell IT'."

"That's not a criticism," the PFY says. "That's just identifying him as perfect pie-eating IT management material."

"And what makes you think that?"

"You asked him about service levels and he thought you were talking about Restaurants," the PFY sighs.

"Well what about this? 'A blend of fast-acting stupidity and sustained release incompetence'?"

"He was an air thief," I reply sadly. "I've seen brighter lights in a fridge."

"Well now we have an issue where there are apparently no suitable candidates," the Director snaps back at us.

"From that pool, anyway. Honestly, we could make a robot to do that job."

"In what way?" he asks.

"50 per cent of the the former occupant's role was sending email to remind people of things to be done and then filing their emailed replies. If we could program a robot to wander around the office scratching its arse and eating lard sandwiches as well then we'd have the whole position cracked."

"Could you do that?" the Director gasps, thinking keenly of future accolades as the implementer of inexpensive robotic management.

"What, the arse scratching and sandwich eating?"

"No, could you make a robotic manager who would track workflows?"

"You wouldn't need a robot to do that - it could all be done on a server," the PFY says. "There are several off-the-shelf products that do that already."

"Yes, but we'd want to keep the office space allocation for the role, so a robot would look better on the books. Maybe you could get it to use Siri to get verbal updates in person when it visited people."

"We've had some... teething issues with robots in the past," I admit. "I'm not sure people would welcome one into their offices - especially those with full height windows."

"Yes, so I've heard - but this wouldn't need to be that... aggressive. It just has to be something with a 'presence', the ability to note stuff down, and maybe talk and listen. It doesn't even need to be that intelligent."

"Yes, I think that describes the former Boss quite well - except for the bits about noting stuff down and listening ..." I say.

"And presence," the PFY adds.

"So could you do it?"

"We have a couple of broken units in the basement. We could de-weaponise them, reduce their speed to a slow trundle and maybe add a smiley face?" the PFY suggests.

"Yes – and if it could just be programmed to get verbal updates about projects and give verbal reminders?"

"Yeah sure."

"And maybe it could understand plain English and the project management could also include verifying and tracking project costs?"

"Uh-huh."

"What about if it could deliver the mail? AND it could have a camera and recognise people and deliver mail and project updates when it encounters them in the building?"

"And perhaps it could give lectures about scope creep while it was at it?"

"Sorry?"

"Nothing. We'll see what we can do."

...

"So?" The Director says a couple of days later. "What are you waiting for? Switch it on!"

"We thought you'd like to do that," the PFY says.

"I..." the Director says, thinking of the number of ways we could disguise an axe, chainsaw or a flame-thrower in a tin box. "What's that thing on the front?"

"It's a tray. To carry mail - and biscuits, until people get comfortable with it."

"Oh, I see. Good Idea. >CLICK<"

>Whirr<

"Good morning," the Robot says. "Good Morning David. Good Morning Simon. Good Morning Stephen."

"Excellent!" the Director burbles happily. "Can you give me an outstanding project update please?"

"..."

"What's it doing?" asked the Director.

"Nothing. You need to prefix your questions with the word Robot."

"Oh. ROBOT, Can you give me an outstanding project update please."

"Outstanding Projects: Project 1.7.3 Password Security Enhancement, Start Date: 20 August 2002. Due Date: 20 September 2002. Completion Percentage 15%. Last Updated 21 August 2002. Assigned to: Systems; Project 1.7.6 Grant Domain Administrator to Senior Management. Start Date: 30 August 2002 Due Date: 31 August 2002. Completion Percentage 0%. Last Updated: 30 August 2002. Assigned to: Systems; Project 1.8.1..."

... 10 minutes later...

"Project 2.2.7 Update automatic updates, Start Date: 3 February 2010. Due Date: 3 March 2010. Completion Percentage: 75%. Last Updated: 3 March 2010. Assigned to: Systems..."

"ROBOT Stop now," the Director says, turning to us. "Do you ever complete projects?"

"Only the ones worth completing, but some of those jobs are complete rubbish. But give us a good job and it'll be done quicker than you can say murder/suicide," the PFY says.

"What?!"

"What?" the PFY asks.

"What do you mean murder/suicide?"

"It's just an expression."

"Not one I'm familiar with!"

"Not yet anyway," the PFY says. "Although technically it would be more murder/self-destruct. No awkward questions to answer..."

"Yes, well, perhaps we'll forget about the update reporting and just get it to do the job follow-ups. ROBOT, remind people about outstanding projects."

...

"These reviews still aren't overly helpful," the Director says after the PFY and I are involved in the second set of interviews following the departure of a robot from the full-height window of Mission Control on the second floor of our building half way through a status update request process.

Oddly the robot also had a PFY-shaped boot print on the back of its chassis...

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