Business Process Automation

Forget the shop floor, AI is coming for the C-Suite

Overpaid execs may find themselves hostages to nostalgia when management by AI becomes the norm, says Billy MacInnes
Image: Stockfresh

6 June 2024

Scepticism is always a healthy approach to adopt when you find yourself being sold the world-changing and transformative capabilities of a particular technology. It works for me, anyway.

The reason for that is the law of unintended consequences which, given the way in which most industries operate with many products released on their virtues but experienced with their vices, is almost ever-present. Sometimes it’s not a fault that can cause the biggest problem but the virtue of a particular product.

The Internet, for example, brings all kinds of benefits in terms of communication, access to information, entertainment, collaboration and what have you but, as a remote tribe in the Amazon called the Marubo is now discovering, it also has plenty of drawbacks. The New York Times reports that in a village where, as one tribal leader puts it, “if you don’t hunt, fish and plant, you don’t eat,” the arrival of the Internet can have very serious consequences. You won’t be surprised to hear that these include teenagers glued to phones; group chats full of gossip; addictive social networks; online strangers; violent video games; scams; misinformation; and minors watching pornography. Admittedly scams and misinformation might not be particularly new when you think back to when the Spaniards first arrived in South America. If they end up being infected with viruses, it’ll be almost like old times.

Anyway, to try and fix the problem, the elders had to set specific time constraints on when the villagers could access the Internet.

That’s not to say it hasn’t brought some great benefits with it, particularly the ability to communicate with other tribes and family in other locations, to share information, to collaborate and to alert the authorities to health issues and environmental destruction.

God knows what they’ll make of AI when it finally manifests in their remote part of the world. The rest of us will have to get to grips with it before then. There’s been a lot written about the irresponsible approach of the tech companies and leaders spearheading AI with accusations that they aren’t paying enough attention to the potential dangers in their rush to proselytise the technology.

We’ve seen all kinds of warnings, such as that AI will take aways millions of jobs, enable the spread of misinformation on a planetary scale and replace our artistic endeavours with its own. Amid all the bad news, however, there may be one small glimmer of hope. It appears that AI may well have an egalitarian effect on the jobs market.

Because it’s not just workers on the shop floor or those in HR that face the chop, it’s also those at the very top: CEOs. I missed the poll last year which found nearly half of all CEOs thought AI could replace most, if not all, of their role.

They’re probably best placed to know. After all, they’re the people getting paid the big bucks to foresee these things. No wonder CEO median pay has risen to nearly 200 times the typical worker’s annual wages in the US. Of course, people being paid that much would clearly be capable of appreciating how removing such a large amount from the payroll and replacing it with a machine able to make the difficult decisions dispassionately would benefit the business.

According to this article, one of the reasons for retaining a human CEO would be ‘merely for the fact of being human’ aka ‘nostalgic jobs’. But then you do have to ask yourself whether that wouldn’t apply to an awful lot of other jobs too. If so, it sounds a bit ‘wasteful’.

I have to admit that I haven’t seen anybody accusing AI of being a communist plot before, but there’s a first time for everything.

Still, the one consolation is that if AI does take over the world, at least the Marubo will get to hear about it.

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