In an age of robotic decision-making, are CEOs necessary? It’s a question that needs to be asked, and Frank Pasquale is asking it:
When BART workers went on strike, Silicon Valley worthies threatened to replace them with robots. But one could just as easily call for the venture capitalists to be replaced with algorithms. Indeed, one venture capital firm added an algorithm to its board in 2013. Travis Kalanick, the CEO of Uber, responded to a question on driver wage demands by bringing up the prospect of robotic drivers. But given Uber’s multiple legal and PR fails in 2014, a robot would probably would have done a better job running the company than Kalanick. …
Thiel Fellow and computer programming prodigy Vitaly Bukherin has stated that automation of the top management functions at firms like Uber and AirBnB would be “trivially easy.” Automating the automators may sound like a fantasy, but it is a natural outgrowth of mantras (e.g., “maximize shareholder value”) that are commonplaces among the corporate elite. To attract and retain the support of investors, a firm must obtain certain results, and the short-run paths to attaining them (such as cutting wages, or financial engineering) are increasingly narrow. And in today’s investment environment of rampant short-termism, the short is often the only term there is.
Just as the killer business app for the personal computer was the spreadsheet, so the killer business app for artificial intelligence may turn out to be the algorithmic CEO. One seems to follow from the other, like an oak from an acorn. The Jetsons, you see, got it wrong: It’s not Rosie who turns into the robot; it’s Mr. Spacely.