Fear of job losses driven by artificial intelligence (AI) is still rampant in the working world, and it is more likely than not that many jobs will be taken over by intelligent technology.
But since AI is highly adept at analyzing data and making informed decisions, is it reasonable to expect that the jobs most at risk are not the low-level workers but mid-level and senior managers, perhaps even the CEO?
And more interestingly, if this turns out to be the case, how will the vast majority of working people react to being answerable to a bot instead of an actual person as they go about their daily duties?
AI at the Top
While the idea of an AI boss may seem strange to many, the fact is that the technology’s assault on the C-Suite has already begun. Late in 2022, Polish spirits and beverage firm Dictador introduced Mika, its new CEO bot tasked with spearheading the company’s “decentralized autonomous organization” (DAO). In that role, Mika will employ blockchain and other technologies to implement automated decision-making as the company explores new products and markets. It makes sense, after all, that when business processes start moving at the speed of modern automation, it takes a bot to monitor them 24-7 to make sure things are not going awry.
But while a robot CEO may draw headlines, the real question is whether the technology has actually developed to a point that it can take on the myriad complex responsibilities of a modern chief executive. At this point, it’s too early to make that call, but some success stories are out there.
Chinese gaming company NetDragon Websoft appointed its AI bot, Tang Yu, as CEO at about the same time as Mika, and the company has reported a 10 percent increase in stock valuation since then – pushing its worth above $1 billion and outperforming the Hang Seng market in Hong Kong. Although it is unclear exactly how Tang Yu contributes to the company’s business processes, founder Dejian Liu said the appointment was part of a broader strategy to transition to a “metaverse-based working community” and that AI is the future of corporate management and strategic growth.
Is AI Ready to Run a Business?
While it may seem that these developments would have CEOs worldwide fretting about their own job security, recent studies suggest they are somewhat complacent. A poll by edX, a developer of educational and training platforms, found that 49 percent of CEOs say AI can effectively take on most or all of their current roles – and many would welcome that change.
Strange as it may seem, some 80 percent of a CEO’s time is spent on mundane tasks like finalizing reports and explaining the same things to different people in different ways. As well, there are the routine market analyses, supply chain issues, business alignments, technology issues, personnel problems . . . the list is endless. And 90 percent or more of the time spent on these jobs goes to absorbing and interpreting data – a task tailor-made for AI.
Few chief executives fear they will be outright replaced by an AI CEO, of course. There are still plenty of soft skills that are unlikely to be digitized. These include creativity, critical thinking, leadership, team-building, collaboration, and perhaps most importantly, the ability to inspire others to implement a strategic vision.
This is not an outlook they share with the rest of their organizations, however. Nearly half say that the skills provided by the current workforce won’t be relevant by 2025 and that 47 percent of their workers are not prepared for the changes to come.
Presumably, this would mean that many mid-tier executives and managers won’t be around much longer or at least will have less of a direct role in carrying out their responsibilities. In a recent article on Medium, designer Sushantvohra highlighted several surveys that suggest a wave of AI-driven automation is about to hit middle management as firms of all sizes look to the cost-savings, efficiencies, and greater performance of intelligent technologies.
Especially when it comes to forecasting and spotting opportunities, human management has a poor track record. This is mainly because people tend to rely on their own experiences to interpret the future, not the wealth of data from other managers and the world at large. And particularly in complex settings that rely on highly skilled labor, close management is sometimes more of a hindrance than a help.
Is an AI CEO Better for Workers?
So what will life be like for the legions of workers who end up answering to a bot rather than a person? It might not be all that bad, says Lee Hafner, editor at Employee Benefit News. In multiple surveys, complaints about managers not understanding the work, not appreciating worker’s contributions, and, in general, making the job more difficult are at the top of the list when it comes to job dissatisfaction.
AI management should be able to resolve many of these problems. A bot, after all, is less likely to show favoritism, micromanage the workflow, or, given the right training, set unclear or unrealistic expectations. AI might even be able to create more personalized work environments by aligning individuals’ strengths and competencies to the tasks that enable the highest performance and, presumably, the greatest overall self-fulfillment. It can even recommend training programs and certifications to help guide workers toward more valuable, higher-paying roles.
At this point, the only certainty regarding AI in the workplace is that, yes, jobs will be lost as machines take on more of the workload. The only difference with AI is that, for the first time, these changes are happening up and down the business hierarchy, putting even the very top layers in the crosshairs.
But, given how the digital economy is driving the need for smooth interaction between all facets of the enterprise, this is not necessarily a bad thing.