Friday, 22 June 2018 10:46

Sacked by AI, tech worker found humans could do nothing

Ibrahim Diallo. Ibrahim Diallo. Supplied

A tech worker in the US lost his job due to the company's automated systems removing him from the rolls eight months into a three-year contract because his manager did not update his contract terms.

It appears to be one of the first cases of a worker being unable to go to work because of the use of artificial intelligence to manage processes such as hiring and firing.

Ibrahim Diallo, a software developer with a company in Los Angeles, said the first inkling he had that there was trouble ahead came when he received a phone call from his recruiter - the woman who had found him the job - at 7am sometime in March last year.

Her voice message was simple: "Oh my God, are you OK!" He thought he had been mistaken for someone else with the same first name.

When he reached work — no mention was made of the company he worked for apart from the fact that it was in the LA-1 skyscraper — his keycard did not work, so he asked the guard to let him in.

He then called his recruiter and had the following conversation:

  • Recruiter: Did you have a talk with your manager yesterday?
  • Diallo: Yes I did.
  • R: Is everything OK?
  • D: Yes, everything is OK. Is there a problem?
  • R: I'm not sure, I received an email about you this morning... I guess it must have been a mistake. Did they let you in the building?
  • D: I don't understand. Yes, they let me in the building. What is happening?
  • R: I think there is a confusion. I'll ask my manager then I will call you back.

Diallo, a native of Guinea who has lived in Egypt for a while before settling in the US, spoke to his manager but did not receive any indication that anything was wrong.

The next day, his card did not work at the parking gate and he had to be let in by the security guard. Once inside, he found his card did not allow him access to the office.

ibrahim diallo email

The email sent by Diallo's director and the reply she received.

After working for some time on his Linux machine, he logged onto his Windows machine to mark a JIRA ticket as completed. But he had been logged out of JIRA and could not get back despite trying numerous times.

Since the system was working for others, Diallo asked a colleague to check his ticket number and noticed that the word "Inactive" was present next to the number.

After lunch, he walked up 11 flights of stairs for the exercise but found that he could not get into the office. Soon after this, his recruiter called him and told him that she had received an email saying that he had been sacked.

Diallo asked his manager to enable his JIRA account but she found she could not and opened a ticket for the support team to attend to it.

The next day, 10 March 2017, he used Uber to get to work but found that the gate supervisor could not print a temporary pass for him as his name was in RED and flagged in the system.

After getting into the building, Diallo contacted the director at the company. She asked the support supervisor about it by email and received a reply saying that Diallo had been terminated as of 1 March 2017.

The following day, he found himself locked out of every single system at his office, apart from his Linux machine. At lunch time, two security people appeared and said they had to escort him from the building, as they had received a threatening email asking them to do so.

Over the next three weeks, Diallo was copied in on the emails that went between his director and company higher-ups. Finally, he was told that the problem had been solved and called back to work. By then, he had been away for three weeks and not been paid.

The explanation he gave was this: "Just before I was hired, this company was acquired by a much larger company and I joined during the transition. My manager at the time was from the previous administration.

"One morning I came to work to see that his desk had been wiped clean, as if he was disappeared. As a full-time employee, he had been laid off. He was to work from home as a contractor for the duration of a transition. I imagine due to the shock and frustration, he decided not to do much work after that. Some of that work included renewing my contract in the new system."

And he added: "A simple automation mistake (feature) caused everything to collapse. I was escorted out of the building like a thief, I had to explain to people why I am not at work, my co-workers became distant (except my manager who was exceptionally supportive).

"Despite the great opportunity it was for me to work at such a big company, I decided to take the next opportunity that presented itself."

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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