Automating CEOs is more fiscally responsible than automating labor

Over at New Statesman, writer Will Dunn (no relation) proposes an interesting cost-cutting measure to make businesses more efficient: replacing CEOs with machines.

A few weeks ago Christine Carrillo, an American tech CEO, raised this question herself when she tweeted a spectacularly tone-deaf appreciation of her executive assistant, whose work allows Carrillo to "write [and] surf every day" as well as "cook dinner and read every night". […] Predictably, a horde arrived to point out that if someone else is doing 60 per cent of Carrillo's job, they should be paid 50 per cent more than her. But as Carrillo – with a frankly breathtaking lack of self-awareness – informed another commenter, her EA is based in the Philippines. The main (and often the only) reason to outsource a role is to pay less for it.

If most of a CEO's job can be outsourced, this suggests it could also be automated. But while companies are racing to automate entry- and mid-level roles, senior executives and decision makers show much less interest in automating themselves.

There's a good argument for automating from the top rather than from the bottom. As we know from the annotated copy of Thinking, Fast and Slow that sits (I assume) on every CEO's Isamu Noguchi nightstand, human decision-making is the product of irrational biases and assumptions. This is one of the reasons strategy is so difficult, and roles that involve strategic decision-making are so well paid. But the difficulty of making genuinely rational strategic decisions, and the cost of the people who do so, are also good reasons to hand this work over to software.

Dunn does acknowledge that AI tends to be as efficient as it is biased and destructive. Personally, I would phrase it more as "AI decision making is as terrifying and it is helpful." He does have a point though: it would save a lot more money than increasingly automating lower-level labor, which in turn would probably help reduce the extremities of income inequality (although that, in turn, would reduce the amount of jobs explicitly designed to serve the needs of extreme wealthy people). Sure, there would probably be some less-than-ideal consequences of automating our hierarchical organizing. But it's not like human CEOs are any better at making choices that minimize human suffering. So hey, maybe it's worth a shot. At least we can share the wealth around that way.

CEOs are hugely expensive – why not automate them? [Will Dunn / New Statesman]

Image: International Telecommunication Union / Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)