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If AI can do its job, maybe it can replace your CEO too| GuyWhoKnowsThings


As artificial intelligence programs shake up the office and potentially render millions of jobs obsolete, one group of perpetually stressed workers appears especially vulnerable.

These employees analyze new markets and discern trends, both tasks that a computer could perform more efficiently. They spend much of their time communicating with colleagues, a laborious activity that is being automated with voice and image generators. Sometimes they have to make tough decisions, and who's better at being dispassionate than a machine?

Finally, these jobs are highly paid, meaning the cost savings of eliminating them are considerable.

The CEO is increasingly endangered by AI, as are the press release writer and customer service representative. Dark factories, which are fully automated, will soon have a counterpart at the top of the corporation: dark suites.

This is not just a prediction. Some successful companies have begun to publicly experiment with the notion of an AI leader, even if it could largely be a branding exercise for now.

AI has been touted as the solution to all corporate problems for about 18 months, since OpenAI launched ChatGPT in November 2022. Silicon Valley put $29 billion last year on generative AI and is selling it strongly. Even in its current rudimentary form, AI that mimics human reasoning is finding a foothold among struggling companies with little to lose and lacking strong leadership.

“In struggling companies, operational management will be replaced first, but some humans will probably be retained to think beyond the machines,” said Saul J. Berman, a former senior consulting partner at IBM. Overall, he said, “the change brought about by AI in corporations will be as great or greater at the upper strategic levels of management as at the lower ranks.”

CEOs themselves seem enthusiastic about the prospect, or perhaps just fatalistic.

EdX, the online learning platform created by Harvard and MIT administrators that is now part of publicly traded 2U Inc., last summer surveyed hundreds of CEOs and other executives on the topic. Respondents were invited to participate and were given what edX called “a small monetary incentive” to do so.

The response was surprising. Nearly half (47 percent) of executives surveyed said they believed “most” or “all” CEO role should be fully automated or replaced by AI Even executives believe that executives are superfluous in the latest digital age.

When Anant Agarwal, founder of edX and former director of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, first saw the 47 percent, his initial response was that executives should say something completely different.

“My first instinct is that they would say, 'Replace all the employees but not me,'” he said. “But I thought about it more deeply and I would say that 80 percent of the work that a CEO does can be replaced by AI.”

That includes writing, synthesizing, exhorting employees. More subtly, AI (if it reaches any of the levels its vendors promise) will democratize the work of senior management even as it reduces it.

“There used to be a curve between people who were good with numerical skills and those who weren't,” Agarwal said. “Then the calculator appeared and it was the great tie. I think AI will do the same with literacy. “Everyone could be CEO”

Working for robots has been a long time coming, at least in the realm of popular culture. Perhaps the first use of the phrase “boss robot” was in 1939 in a story by David C. Cooke in a pulp magazine called simply Science Fiction. It wasn't an empowering story of mentorship and mutual support.

“Remember,” the robot-boss says, “My photon gun will shoot faster than you can run, so don't try to escape.”

Many science fiction stories and films followed that portrayed the man-machine relationship in an equally dark light. However, real people seemed perversely sympathetic to the idea. In a 2017 survey Of 1,000 British workers hired by an online accounting firm, 42 percent said they would be “comfortable” taking orders from a computer.

Long before the current AI boom, Jack Ma, then CEO of Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba, foretold that in 30 years “a robot will probably appear on the cover of Time magazine as the best CEO.” He noted that robots were faster and more rational than humans, and were not driven by emotions such as anger.

Chinese online gaming company NetDragon Websoft, which has 5,000 employees, named what it calls an “AI-powered rotating CEO” named Tang Yu in 2022. “We believe AI is the future of corporate management,” the company said. company founder, Dejian Liu. , adding that he was part of NetDragon's move toward “metaverse-based working community.”

Tang Yu, personified as a woman, does not appear in a NetDragon online graph. management team, but the company announced last month that it had won “the coveted title of 'China's Best Virtual Employee of the Year'” at the China Digital Human Industry Forum. Another executive collected the award for her. NetDragon's team of AI employees is in charge of performance reviews and mentoring, among other tasks, the company says.

On the other side of the world, the exclusive Polish rum company Dictador announced in November that it had a humanoid CEO with artificial intelligence, Mika. He proclaimed on LinkedIn that he was “devoid of personal bias, ensuring unbiased and strategic choices that prioritize the best interests of the organization.”

Executives at the National CEO Association might have something to say about this trend (if only to deny it), but their website doesn't list any actual human beings affiliated with the group. A message sent via the “contact us” message received no response.

Experts in artificial intelligence, the human species, warned that we are still at the beginning of any transition, but said it is a natural progression.

“We have always outsourced the effort. Now we are outsourcing the intelligence,” said Vinay Menon, who heads the global AI practice at consulting firm Korn Ferry. He warned that “while we may not need the same number of leaders, we will still need leadership.”

On the one hand, humans provide accountability in a way that machines do not. “Some may exploit AI as a way to protect people from having to take on fiduciary responsibilities,” said Sean Earley, managing director at executive consulting firm Teneo. “At what point do you become guilty of a mistake?”

“Never” was the position that one company recently took in court. A customer filed a case against Air Canada for refusing to offer the bereavement fare reduction that a chatbot on the airline's site had promised. The client took his complaint to small claims court. Air Canada argued in its defense that it cannot be held responsible for information provided by one of its agents, servants or representatives, including a chatbot.

Judge ruled against the airline and in favor of the passenger in February, but the specter of a company arguing that its own AI could not be trusted did not bode well for AI management teams. Air Canada declined to comment.

Much of the debate over the past year about AI in the workplace has revolved around how rank-and-file employees are at risk unless they incorporate new technology into their jobs—without, of course, letting their jobs become AI. . Historically, automation puts workers at risk. risk even when it benefits investors and managers.

Now the tables have turned. Researchers speculate that automation at the executive level could even help lower-level workers.

“Someone who is already quite advanced in their career and already quite motivated may no longer need a human boss,” said Phoebe V. Moore, professor of management and the future of work at the University of Essex Business School. “In that case, self-management software can even enhance workers' agency.”

The pandemic prepared people for this. Many office workers worked from home in 2020, and many still do, at least several days a week. Communication with colleagues and executives is done through machines. It's just a small step to communicate with a machine that doesn't have a person on the other end.

“Some people like the social aspects of having a human boss,” Moore said. “But after Covid, many are also fine with not having one.”


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