Will Robots Replace CEOs?


Last year, I spent a week at Singularity University learning about disruption with other like-minded CEOs from around the world. They all seemed in agreement that machine-based algorithms could replace 40% of the jobs in the U.S. today, and that would be a good and productive move. There would be a slight period of labor market contraction but then, expansion as new, creative jobs are opened up thanks to the robots.

One of the brilliant minds I met at SU was Rob Nail, who came on as CEO in October of 2011. His first business was a life science robotics company, so it makes sense that he recently made a speech asking CEOs to “Give the robots some love.” His robot Wesley then added, “I am not going to take your jobs.”

But could robots replace high, human-intelligence requiring jobs, like the CEO position? There would be several benefits:

  • Non-stop
    A robot CEO would be able to work 24 hours a day, bridging multiple international workdays in multiple locations.
  • Communication
    I’m not talking about feel good, human style chats. They would be able to quickly and efficiently communicate with the vast army of robot workers that exist in the market today.
  • Error-proof
    Robot CEOs would not only be able to get through the day avoiding computation errors, but they would be exempt from making social errors as well. Sexual harassment lawsuits would be a thing of the past.
  • Competitive Advantage
    Deployment of a robot in the CEO position would be a tremendous strategic advantage to early adopters. A company would be able to raise stock prices on the reduced compensations packages alone.

But would they be able to inspire their human workers to succeed? How do CEOs inspire their workers today? In a survey of millennial workers, most stated that they didn’t even know what their CEO looked like in person.

And what would happen to the human CEOs? My hope is that CEOs would transition into more entrepreneurial roles, finding ways to use robots that help the billions of people on this planet, not just a corporate bottom line.

Will robots replace CEOs? Not yet, but as I’ve learned through experience, nothing and no one is so important that they can’t be disrupted.

Questions to ask in preparation for the future:

  • Do you, as a CEO, have a robotics strategy?
  • How could you implement a robotics strategy in your organization?
  • How much time are you and your executive team spending on the question of robotics?
  • Are there any white-color jobs in your organization that should be replaced with machine-based algorithms?

If you’ve already had this conversation, what were the results?


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