One of the most common fears about artificial intelligence is the negative impact it could have on our jobs. Could the arrival of AI in the workplace mean our companies will need less of us to do what they do? Will AI make our jobs redundant?
I wonder about it, and it was one of the points I thought about while writing my post about trying DALL·E, the image generation AI.
Even the AI who wrote my latest post about artificial intelligence suggested to talk about the topic and redacted a paragraph describing this as a possible escenario.
With this post I’d like to lucubrate about this from a different perspective. What if the jobs AIs take away were actually not the jobs held by individual contributors but the managers’? This sounds bizarre, but is already happening, as you’ll read in a bit.
I am a manager myself, and I see a lot of ways an AI could be better than me, a few aspects I think I still do better than our current or near-term AIs, and some ideas about how this could work in practice.
6 ways AIs outperform human managers
- AIs don’t sleep, so they’d be able to manage a remote team across all timezones.
- AIs don’t take holidays, so management would be consistent all year round.
- AIs can have multiple conversations at once, so you would be able to get answers from them immediately whenever you need to, and they’ll never be late to a meeting again or cancel your 1:1.
- AIs can analyze huge amounts of data from within the company and from external sources in seconds and easily make predictions and recommendations. They never answer “I will take a loot and come back to you ASAP”, instead they can instantly tell you if there’s a miscalculation or give you an actionable recommendation.
- AIs don’t have favorites, dislike any of their team members, or have a different favorite soccer team, political view, religion, or cultural trait, or communication style that works better with some team members than with others. Consistency and neutrality, which is harder to find in humans.
- AIs are great at learning either from the data they have access to, the model itself, or the training instructions a human feeds them. I can’t count how many times I have asked for the link of one of our data dashboards – and I have a 0.99 positive confidence that I will have to ask for that link again.
What humans do better
This list is a lot harder to write, partly because, as a manager, it reads as a justification of why I shouldn’t be replaced by a machine, and partly because while AIs have a lot of things in common, human beings and managers, can come in all shapes, forms, colors, and skillsets.
- Some managers have empathy and can deal with conflict, emotional situations, or crises better.
- Managers (some, again) can adapt their tone or communication styles to different cultures, moments, or personalities. I suspect this advantage may be amongst the first to disappear, though.
- Having a human manager that may have bad ideas, miscalculate, get late to a meeting or take a day off because they have a fever can remove stress from teams. A manager that’s always right, fresh, and on time… can put the rest of the team under a lot of pressure.
- Managers who are more aware of their “unknown unknowns” may reach better conclusions than AIs or develop strategies to avoid common errors. An example: AIs are really bad at drawing hands, just like I am. But where I have developed strategies to find excuses to hide hands (hold stuff, out of frame, behind their backs…) AIs insist on putting terrible hands front and center in their pictures.
- A good manager can thrive in an environment with terrible data. As for AIs, you know, trash in, trash out.
- We tend to forget that electricity and connectivity are still not ubiquitous. Humans can always switch to pens and post-its, but without power and connection, an AI manager won’t be able to manage much.
The future is already here
Am I thinking about this ahead of time? I’d say no.
NetDragon Websoft, a software company that started with games and is not focused on education, based in Hong Kong, has appointed its first “AI CEO”.
Tang Yu has a female name but a synthetic brain and will be in charge of streamlining processes, improving efficiency, helping make sense of data, and identifying risks.
“We believe AI is the future of corporate management, and our appointment of Ms Tang Yu represents our commitment to truly embrace the use of AI to transform the way we operate our business and ultimately drive our future strategic growth.”
Here’s their press release in case you want to learn more about the move.
What’s in it for us?
If you have to take one thing away from this post, let it be that the future is already here and the ways in which AI is going to change the workplace are huge and reach far beyond what other technological advances did. These changes will go from the bottom up and across all levels, departments, and divisions.
Do you see another way in which AIs can do better than managers? An advantage of humans I missed? Leave a comment and help me see the whole picture before an AI takes my job!