In late 2022, NetDragon Websoft, a Chinese video game firm, became the first known company to appoint an artificial intelligence bot as its CEO. The company named the AI program “Ms. Tang Yu,” and its leaders now use the AI tool to support the decision-making for its daily operations. Last year, the CEO of Mobeon, a California-based streaming company, made waves by stepping aside and handing the company’s strategic and operational reins to a ChatGPT-based AI tool.
While these groundbreaking examples don’t signify a trend, these first AI CEOs do symbolize a significant evolution in the sphere of leadership, and they spark broad new questions for the C-suite, HR executives and boards of directors.
When attracting talent, we typically want to recruit the smartest person possible who fits the position and compliments the competencies of the existing team. As we careen into a futuristic world of generative AI, does that person need to be an actual person?
The competencies and attributes required for virtual executives to thrive—and how HR can leverage and foster these capabilities within its talent pools—are novel considerations. As these virtual executives take their “seats” at the leadership table, HR assumes the additional role of change orchestrator, tasked with deftly navigating the innate uncertainties and resistance often associated with these transformative shifts. Addressing concerns, nurturing acceptance and cultivating a culture of collaboration are paramount responsibilities.
As the prevalence of AI and virtual executives grows, ethical and legal considerations loom large on the HR horizon, encompassing issues such as algorithmic bias, accountability and transparency in decision-making. The formulation of robust guidelines and frameworks becomes essential to ensure ethical governance in this emerging domain.
In tandem, HR professionals must grapple with the acquisition and retention of talent well-versed in the intricacies of generative AI and technology, supporting the endeavors of virtual executives across industries. HR’s role also extends to safeguarding the job satisfaction of employees impacted by AI-led decisions, necessitating agile adaptation of policies to ensure the continued welfare of the workforce.
In essence, the rise of virtual executives heralds a paradigm shift in leadership, and HR professionals are at the forefront of navigating this uncharted territory.
How Generative AI Can Power an 'AI-CEO'
Generative AI refers to a category of artificial intelligence systems that have the capability to generate new content or data that is similar to, but not directly copied from, existing data. These AI systems use techniques such as deep learning and neural networks to analyze patterns and structures within large datasets and then produce original content based on what they’ve learned.
An AI tool that assumes the role of virtual executive should be a leader that leverages data-driven decision-making and continuous learning to guide an organization strategically. Like any good leader, it should also communicate effectively, adhere to ethical principles and learn to scale its capabilities. This AI-driven executive represents a fusion of advanced technology and established leadership acumen, shaping the future of organizational leadership.
The virtual leader can be prompted with questions and provide seemingly thoughtful answers nearly instantaneously. When you look under the hood of a generative AI (e.g., GPT-3), it looks like a highly sophisticated text generator.
Here’s a slightly deeper view into what happens when you ask your virtual executive a question, as compared to your human executive colleague.
Human CEO: Perception and comprehension. The brain processes the sensory input and activates to decode the question’s meaning.
Virtual executive: Input analysis. AI analyzes the question leveraging a complex system of algorithms to extract meaning and context.
Human CEO: Memory retrieval. The brain searches long-term memories and retrieves relevant information based on strength of memories.
Virtual executive: Language generation. AI considers words sequentially based on patterns it has learned from extensive pre-training.
Human CEO: Information integration. The brain integrates and assesses the relevance of information using critical thinking and pattern recognition.
Virtual executive: Probability-based selection. The AI tool assigns word probabilities and selects the highest probability of random words to enhance creativity.
Human CEO: Decision-making and reasoning. The brain uses higher-order cognition in the prefrontal cortex to evaluate various perspectives.
Virtual executive: Sequential composition. AI builds an answer iteratively until it reaches a predefined length or designated endpoint.
Human CEO: Language production. The brain activates language production centers to articulate responses and convey thoughts accurately.
Virtual executive: Post-processing and quality assurance. AI engages in post-processing to correct grammar or improve coherence.
It’s essential to keep in mind that while generative AI can produce impressive responses, it doesn’t possess true comprehension. Its responses are generated based on patterns from training data, and it may produce plausible but incorrect answers.
For that reason, the process of getting answers from virtual executives will have both significant advantages and disadvantages when compared with human executives. Given this, when should we turn to a virtual executive for answers?