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Is your CEO a Robot?

Updated: May 13

By Antoine Bebe, executive Coach & Founder of HUB Consulting


When your CEO is a robot!

Ms. Tang Yu has just been appointed CEO of NetDragon Websoft, a leading Chinese video games & education company. She “embodies” a new kind of “diversity” as she is a humanoid robot with AI (Artificial Intelligence).

Needless to say, beyond the media stunt, Ms. Tang Yu is a milestone in the history of AI supported management, just as Deep Blue built by IBM was the first computer to win a chess game against a human being, World champion Garry Kasparov, in 1997.

While Ms. Tang Yu’s role is for now dedicated to directing operations, the appointment of a robot as CEO raises a number of questions, both ethical and technical. According to the corporate press release, among the contributions to the company the new CEO will “support logical decision-making”. In this post, I will share some food for thoughts on what is human in the role of a decision maker.

What is human in the role of a decision maker?

As an executive coach, I often accompany top executives who must make important decisions in highly challenging situations. In my experience, when decision makers feel stressed about a situation, the best technical answer provided by experts is not enough. Indeed, when executives or managers are worried about a situation or hesitate, it is most often because they are faced with a managerial paradox (for instance short term profitability vs long term sustainability) or internally conflicting values (for instance commitment to the company’s goal vs commitment to their teams).

Of course, the CEO robot can be loaded with and learn more information and strategies than any human beings. It also out-powers any human being when processing data and making quick decisions by considering a wide range of options. The question is what criteria and values are taught to the robot in order to make these decisions, and also for which stakeholder these decisions should be beneficial.

For Antonio Damasio, world-renowned researcher in neuro-sciences, wisdom comes from the ability to connect to one’s emotions associated with past decisions, as much as to consider the actual outcomes of those decisions. This includes the capability to connect to one’s emotions in relation to potential options for the decision to take. Antonio Damasio's research shows that you cannot take a good decision for you or others if you are not connected to your emotions.

Let’s add the capability to sense the prospective emotions of stakeholders as a key dimension of decision-making and we will have a large part of the scope of emotional and relational intelligence. While robots cannot feel, they can learn the feelings and reactions of human beings to specific events, all the more so if you collect billions of personal data on the web and social media. In the area of emotional and relational intelligence, just as much as for logical intelligence, humans are now challenged.

But what really drives decision makers forward is most often generative thinking that brings innovative solutions that can benefit all stakeholders. These innovating solutions, when they emerge often bring surprise or astonishment. The reason is that they change the current understanding of the situation and carry with them a new thinking system. As Einstein said: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” As the entire history of art tells us, innovative insights and solutions stem beyond mastering one’s art. It is about mastering the rules to such a state of the art that you take the freedom to reinterpret them, or break them by inventing new ways. Although robots can generate creativity by automatic changes, associations or transformations, they are not able to evaluate the unique relevance of an artistic expression.

If you are not sure, hopefully you are not a robot!

In our seminars, we already consider decision making as a creative path. Perhaps in future leadership programs (for humans) we will place more emphasis on navigating through these levels of consciousness, on breaking the rules and innovating generatively, rather than on assertiveness and compliance, for which robots will be better suited. We are also likely to consider emphasising the importance of hesitating before making high-stake decisions, lest we turn into robots.

For which impact?

Finally, the most important questions are philosophical and spiritual: What society do we want to live in? What is our collective vision of a future we want to be part of? How can we use technology to serve humankind and the planet, without our lives being dominated by technology?


This article was first published on LinkedIn, October 2022

Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-NC

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