Curious hacker

AI Might Destroy C-Level Jobs Before Front-Liners.

AI has no obligation to obey the corporate hierarchy.

I asked my friend, who is aspiring to be a pilot, “Don’t you think AI will soon replace pilots?”

He shot back with another question. He asked, “Would you talk to a recording if your flight is caught in a storm?”

My answer was a clear NO. I want to speak to some human I can trust — somebody who takes responsibility. Not to a machine that is good at generalizing things. Well, isn’t that what we call Machine Learning?

You’d be surprised to know what jobs will be lost to AI. I did after thinking about it a little deeper.

Regardless of all the advancements in AI, some professions need an emotional connection. I don’t think AI could replace these roles.

At least not for a few more decades.

We are so attached to the corporate hierarchy. Thus we naturally think that’s the order in which AI will destroy jobs. Of course, the power to influence others rises along with the ranks. So, we believe people on the top will hold while others can’t.

In reality, some high-ranked job roles are relatively straightforward to replace. Whereas some frontline works are meant to stay. To know them better, we need to understand other dimensions of the problem.

Some professions need an emotional connection with their clients.

Our current technology is capable of taking care of sick people. Robots are already taking care of covid patients in Singapore. That’s a remarkable success in handling transmittable deceased.

“Isolation and the potential loss of loving connection is coded by the human brain into a primal panic response.”
— Sue Johnson, Hold Me Tight

But in all other cases, how helpful a robot nurse is compared to a real nurse? If reading temperatures and dispensing medicine are the only things a nurse does, a robot is incredible. But empathy is a rich skill that we’ve developed through thousands of years of evolution. There is nothing better than receiving love from another human being.

Trust is a critical element of some jobs. Take the case of my pilot friend. At around 30,000 feet above the ground, If I knew there was no one responsible for my life, I wouldn’t be happy. I hope no one ever wishes to contribute to the death count in the newspaper.

Yes, machines are good at predicting and controlling, which is impossible for a human brain. What’s more important than accuracy is who takes responsibility for the prediction errors.

In many other cases, attractiveness drives the emotional connection. Imagine a restaurant where robots serve the food, like China’s Robot Restaurant Complex. This fact is enough to make headlines and draw attention. However, could it replace humble, helpful, and attractive waiters and waitresses?

Robot cheerleaders won’t cheer up the players.

What we get wrong about the front-line workers

We think the front line will disappear soon because of their lack of influence. Although it’s true at an individual level, front-line workers have unions. They will resist technological replacement for their jobs. At least they prolong their existence in the industry.

Front-line workers aren’t necessarily dealing with tasks that don’t require high intellectual skills. In many industries, front-line workers are a critical resource. It is especially true for knowledge-based companies such as consulting.

In any organization, the replacement cost for such workers is sky-high. Because of their ability to handle unforeseeable events training another person to the same level is uneconomic.

These facts may not be convincing to our claim. But clearly, their impact will delay the transformation from human hands to machines. Unfortunately, some roles, regardless of their ranks, don’t fit the bill.

Roles with repetitive tasks, systematic decision-making roles, and even some creative ones will vanish.

This might not surprise you. Almost all the repetitive tasks that don’t need an emotional connection will go.

Think about clerks in small offices. They don’t have unions to protect them, their work is not very intellectual, and their replacement isn’t expensive. Cashiers and drivers will all fall into this bucket that is waiting to be dumped by AI.

Professions that make decisions based on preset calculations won’t stand a chance, either. Accounting software has already killed loads of accountant jobs. This may extend to include CFOs as well. Except when they are needed for creative financing decisions. But that may become the responsibility of the CEO then.

Surprisingly, even some creative roles will go extinct. When I was a child, there were only two photographers in my town. Today, every one of us takes pictures that are a thousand times better than the two photographers. AI has already started to write poems, compose music and even enter painting competitions.

Creativity is no excuse for AI job killers.

The C-suite is not safe heaven.

Interestingly, some C-level executives fit perfectly these criteria. In addition to making analytical decisions, AI could also solve problems such as conflicts of interest.

I’m sure AI would make better financial decisions than most CFOs and better operations decisions than COOs. Because such decisions are based on calculated risks, computers are better alternatives.

Human intervention is only needed for reviewing before execution. Of course, trust is an essential element of why every company’s board of directors. Like in the case of my pilot friend, this can not be replaced by machines.

It’s not about making accurate business decisions but who takes responsibility for the incorrect ones.

For this matter, two scenarios are more likely to happen:

  • First, the C-suite may shrink — fewer directors will replace the previously big team board.
  • Their package may shrink — If the board sucks most of the bottom-line profit figure, their remuneration will decrease as shareholders demand.

What does this all mean?

If you are worried about losing your job because AI could replace you, it’s also likely to replace C-level executives. It doesn’t have to obey the corporate hierarchy when killing jobs.

What AI can not replace are the professions that need an emotional connection with people. Empathy, trust, and attractiveness are the complex parts that machines can not return. A nurse’s job is more important than the Chief accountant of the hospital. A pilot’s job is more than flying the aircraft. Hence, he is more critical than the COO of the airline. Robots can not be cheerleaders.

Only one thing is sure about the future. It is uncertain. We never know which professions will vanish quicker and which ones will prolong. But clearly, it doesn’t have an order.

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