Make no mistake: automation is going to be absolute hell. Over the next decade or so, computerisation and automation of a whole swathe of low-income jobs is probably going to absolutely decimate living standards for huge numbers of people and promote strains of left-wing and right-wing political radicalism we can scarcely even comprehend. We haven’t seen shit yet.

That being said, sometimes – just sometimes – it’s the workers who benefit from automation. Like this bloke on an increasingly viral Stack Exchange thread, who has somehow managed to automate his entire job without telling his bosses about it.

Some Maniac Genius Automated His Entire Job Without Telling The Boss

StackExchange is a network of question-and-answer sites on a number of topics based around a community called Stack Overflow, which was intended for programmers and software developers.

User Etherable asked a simple question: is it ethical for him to automate his job while keeping it a secret from his superiors, who still think he’s doing it manually?

I currently work on a legacy system for a company. The system is really old – and although I was hired as a programmer, my job is pretty much glorified data entry. To summarise, I get a bunch of requirements, which is literally just lots of data for each month on spreadsheets and I have to configure the system to make it work, which is basically just writing a whole bunch of SQL scripts.

[…]

So I’ve been doing it for about 18 months and in that time, I’ve basically figured out all the traps to the point where I’ve actually written a program which for the past 6 months has been just doing the whole thing for me. So what used to take the last guy like a month, now takes maybe 10 minutes to clean the spreadsheet and run it through the program.

He says he works from home, and ends up spending about 1-2 hours per week while still pulling down a full-time salary. He says he even worked it out so his program inserts a few bugs here and there – because if it was too perfect they might get sus.

I really enjoy the free time but would it be unethical to continue with this arrangement without mentioning anything? It’s not like I’m cheating the company. The company has never indicated they’re dissatisfied with my performance and in fact, are getting exactly what they want from employing me.

The following thread is a pretty damn interesting division between people who reckon it’s fine (“They’re paying for results, not your time”) and those who reckon it’s dodgy (“Don’t insert bugs or pretend you’re working when you’re not. That part is wrong.”)

It’s a really interesting example of automation happening at a non-management level – most business ethicists wouldn’t blink an eye if a company or organisation cut financial costs by automating, but it suddenly seems bad if an employee does exactly the same thing with their labour. Funny disconnect.

The big issue people are pulling is his deliberate obfuscation of the results by adding bugs – some people are pointing out that could be construed as an example of fraud, and his best bet is probably to run without it.

Here’s the top-rated comment:

You don’t sell time! You sell results! Despite what everyone says here, you do not sell 40 hours of data entry per week, you sell the result processing X spreadsheets. Think about it this way: if you get distracted, and in one month make so many mistakes entering the data that the entire month gets lost. They would not fire you, but I’m pretty sure that you will face some kind of reprimand, despite working full time.

The only thing that would make this somewhat unethical is if the workload gets increased, and you refuse to accept it.

From a practical point of view, I don’t think that if you tell them, it would be any risk to you. From the description, it’s likely that they would not understand what exactly you did, they would not trust the process and they would not risk firing you without having a backup. However, telling them would open a strange discussion that you might not want to have.

Later edit: After reading some of the other comments, I realized that you went out of your way to simulate 40h of work per week, which is in my opinion unethical. It’s not required to actively signal that you do the job faster, but going out of your way to do conceal it is wrong.

V. interesting.

Source: Stack Exchange.

Photo: The Simpsons.