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News » AI could soon replace some CEOs, analysts say

AI could soon replace some CEOs, analysts say

Mika, the AI CEO of the Polish rum company Dictador, was launched in 2023. Photo from Dictador.

NEW YORK, UNITED STATES — As artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities rapidly advance, the technology is no longer just disrupting rank-and-file jobs—it’s making inroads into the highest levels of corporate leadership.

“In struggling companies, you’ll be replacing operational management first but probably keep a few humans to think beyond the machines,” said Saul J. Berman, a former senior consulting partner with IBM.

“The change delivered by A.I. in corporations will be as great or greater at the higher strategic levels of management as the lower ranks.”

Early adopters of AI-powered CEOs

Companies are beginning to experiment with AI in leadership roles. NetDragon Websoft, a Chinese online game company, appointed Tang Yu as its “AI-driven rotating CEO” in 2022. The company’s founder, Dejian Liu, believes AI is the future of corporate management.

Similarly, the Polish rum company Dictador announced in November that it had an AI humanoid CEO named Mika. 

“My decision-making process relies on extensive data analysis and aligning with the company’s strategic objectives. It’s devoid of personal bias, ensuring unbiased and strategic choices that prioritize the organization’s best interests,” Mika proclaimed on LinkedIn.

In 2017, Jack Ma, former chief executive of the Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba, predicted that “In 30 years, a robot will likely be on the cover of Time Magazine as the best CEO.” He noted that robots were quicker and more rational than humans, and “they don’t get bogged down in emotions — like getting angry at competitors.”

Meanwhile, 49% of CEOs believed their entire role could be automated, according to an edX survey.

The pros and cons of AI CEOs

Issues of accountability and lack of human touch remain unresolved, as highlighted by a recent court case against Air Canada. The airline argued it was not liable for a mistake made by its chatbot, although the judge ruled against them. This raises questions about the legal implications of AI decisions in corporate settings.

“A.I. may be exploited by some as a way to shield folks from having to take fiduciary responsibility,” said Sean Earley, a managing director of the executive consulting firm Teneo. “At what point does it become culpable for a mistake?”

However, researchers observe that a lower-level employee who is “already quite advanced in their career and is already fairly self-motivated may not need a human boss anymore.” 

Phoebe V. Moore, professor of management and the futures of work at the University of Essex Business School, added, “In that case, software for self-management can even enhance worker agency.”

Moreover, Anant Agarwal, the founder of edX and a former director of MIT’s Computer Science and AI Lab, believes that “80 percent of the work that a CEO does can be replaced by AI.” That includes writing, synthesizing, and encouraging the employees.

“There used to be a curve of people who were good with numerical skills and those who were not,” Agarwal said. 

“Then the calculator came along and was the great equalizer. I believe A.I. will do the same thing for literacy. Everybody could be C.E.O.”

The future of corporate leadership

AI systems have become so advanced that they match or exceed human performance on many tasks, such as reading comprehension, image classification, and complex mathematics.

According to Stanford University’s new AI Index Report 2024, this meteoric progress means common AI benchmarks are quickly becoming outdated.

However, as of 2023, there are still some task categories where AI fails to exceed human ability. 

“These tend to be more complex cognitive tasks, such as visual commonsense reasoning and advanced-level mathematical problem-solving (competition-level math problems),” the report said.

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