A C-suite wake-up call: We’re all replaceable

Much has been made about the impact of Artificial Intelligence on lower-skilled workers. Dr. Mark Goulston warns that it could take the bosses' jobs too.

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C-suite functions might be the most replaceable of all.
The C-suite may be one of the most endangered workforces in the future. Photo – Shutterstock
This is a photo of Mark Goulston, M.D.
Mark Goulston, M.D

If those of you in the C-suite think you’re all irreplaceable, think again. The human workforce is the figurative boiling frog in the cauldron of the singularity.

Let’s look at how technology and Artificial Intelligence is working to create the perfect simulation of all of us. First off, let me introduce you to the concept of the singularity.

From Wikipedia: The technological singularity (also, simply, the singularity) is the hypothesis that the invention of artificial superintelligence (ASI) will abruptly trigger runaway technological growth, resulting in unfathomable changes to human civilization. According to this hypothesis, an upgradable intelligent agent (such as a computer running software-based artificial general intelligence) would enter a “runaway reaction” of self-improvement cycles, with each new and more intelligent generation appearing more and more rapidly, causing an intelligence explosion and resulting in a powerful superintelligence that would, qualitatively, far surpass all human intelligence.

If this seems too far off for you to worry about, don’t be so sure about our working futures being guaranteed in the meantime.

In 2014, Forbes ran this article: “This Does Not Compute: The Human Skills Robots Can’t Replace and How to Develop Them” and then in 2015, Inc ran ”The Skills You’ll Need to Avoid Being Replaced by a Robot” and more recently in 2018, Forbes ran this one: “As Robots Threaten More Jobs, Human Skills Will Save Us.”

Also in 2018, Nature published the study, “Cooperating with Machines,” which demonstrated how algorithms could “cooperate” with other algorithms, concluding, “We show that this algorithm can cooperate with people and other algorithms at levels that rival human cooperation in a variety of two-player repeated stochastic games.”

If you think machines will never replace the human touch, check out Business Insider’s, “I tried Woebot, a therapy chatbot and app for depression.” It appears that as human beings’ interpersonal skills deteriorate in the age of text and click, people may be more open, relaxed and candid with a machine than with another “awkward” human.

Then there is Oben, which in creating your own Personal Artificial Intelligence (PAI) and enables you to create a “digital you” that can listen as you, respond as you and look and sound like you. In fact, in the not too distant future, it will be able to collect so much information about you, that it will be able to have relationships with other people that will possibly be even more meaningful and deeper ones than you could have on your own.

So, we aren’t that far off in taking the next step toward the singularity. Let’s face it, every C-suite executive performs a function and in the future, all those functions could be replaced and done better by AI than humans. Here’s how it could go:

Founder/Visionary

A founder’s/visionary’s function is to envision a product or service that serves a vast and untapped market (as Steve Jobs did with his notion of a personal computer for everyone) and in so doing create “awe” and buzz in the minds of customers and consumers. A second function is to envision and articulate a strategy for growing their company and grow it large enough to bring in a CEO (because most founders can’t do that job). We discussed algorithms for both visioning and strategy in: “Bosses Beware: The autonomous leading machine could replace you too.”

A third function is to hire (often with their Board’s help) the right person to be that CEO if the founder is not up to it.

CEO

Although the Founder/Visionary may continue to be the face of the company, the main CEO function is to engender trust, confidence and credibility in the minds of the Board. Another function is to refine or change the initial strategy that the Founder came up with because a Founder’s plan — which is often not sustainable — does not a successful company make (Are you listening, Elon Musk?).

Coinciding with developing a strategy, another CEO function (again with the Board’s and Founder’s help) is to select the right people for the right positions to do the right things, especially a President/COO and design head (like Tim Cook and Jony Ive at Apple). We discussed criteria to follow in: “Get where the hiring manager is and get hired.”

Another function is to work with the Founder and CEO to handle any crisis (the three of them should be part of the “go to” team unless the Founder has already been moved more to the “face of the company” role).

In Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Judgment Calls, authors Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis make the case that the three most important areas of such judgment calls are strategy, people and crises.

Regarding crisis management, the human skills that can be programmable are in resources including Chris Voss’ Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended on It or my book, Talking to Crazy: How to Deal with the Irrational and Impossible People in Your Life.

President/COO

A President’s/COO’s function is to align and oversee all the subsidiary functions and departments under the overall business strategy, not to mention running interference between the often “out of touch” or “too aggressive” founder and the rest of the company (Tim Cook 1.0).

CFO

A CFO’s function is to manage the costs so that the company doesn’t run out of runway.  Analyzing spreadsheets and budgets is a job for AI.

HR Director

What the CFO is to managing money to keep the company going, the HR head’s function is to managing “human resources” (yes, they are resources, not human beings) so that they don’t mess up everything by being, … er… well, being human. This position may last the longest of the C-suite positions because it will always be necessary whenever human beings are around because humans are so often messy.

Well, there you have it. We appear to have some time before we will all have to pack it in having no work to go to, right? Given the inevitably of AI and technology being able to replace all of our functions, perhaps the most “singular” function we can give it is to figure out what to do with us.

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Dr. Mark Goulston is an award-winning business psychiatrist, a consultant for Fortune 500 companies and the best-selling author of seven books. His latest, Talking to Crazy: How to Deal with Irrational and Irresponsible People in your Life can be found on Amazon. Catch up on Dr. Goulston’s previous articles here.

Connect with Dr. Goulston through FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn. His books are available on Amazon. Check out his videos on YouTube or take advantage of free resources available at www.markgoulston.com.

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