Elon Musk, ChatGPT, and Leadership

Skynet screenshot

There has been a hue and cry about the emergence of AI, like ChatGPT, and how they (all the AI’s being contemplated) will take over for humans in business; how people will no longer be able to find work because AI’s will take over; and how our lives will then become meaningless.  Elon Musk and a host of other tech moguls recently wrote articles calling for a slowdown of the development of AI until we understand it more.

This fear is fueled by the unknown.  Of course, having dystopian, science fiction movies like Terminator as a point of reference doesn’t help (please Skynet, let me post this article!).  While I don’t claim to have a functioning crystal ball, I can’t imagine humans being completely replaced in the work force nor can I imagine AI becoming CEO’s and running companies effectively.  The reason is simple, at the end of the day, people do business with people.  More accurately, people do business with people they like and trust.

The importance of this statement can’t be overstated.  Think about your favorite coffee shop, restaurant, or bar; the place you go because “everyone knows your name” (Norm!). At the end of the day, what connects us with these companies is our connection with the people who work there and that only happens because of empathy, our ability to understand each other’s emotional states and experiences, and AI can only emulate empathy not experience it!

Another element in creating a bond between people is the release of oxytocin.  Oxytocin, also known as the cuddling hormone, creates a bond between people.  There are many stimuli that cause the release of oxytocin and most of them are physical in nature.  Exercise, touching others whether casually like a pat on the back or intimately, good conversations, listening to music, etc.  While AI may be able to produce pleasant music, the rest of these stimuli are outside their ability.

Without the human connection, business become commoditized and commodities sell at lower margins which means they need to sell a greater volume for the business to be viable.  This makes the business less competitive not more competitive because service tends to suffer when volume and low cost become a priority.  When service suffers, businesses bleed customers quickly.  Don’t believe me?  Remember Home Grocers?  Didn’t think so.

Then there are businesses that must have some human component like service businesses.  AI’s can’t clean your home, fix your car, repair your plumbing, install a new roof, etc.

Does this mean I don’t think there’s a place for AI in business?  Au contraire.   AI is a tool and like all tools it has its place in our toolbox.  AI has the ability to make us more efficient, analyze large datasets without the level of expertise now needed.  It will make interacting with computers more accessible, think Star Trek or Star Wars where we talk with computers in plain language and get the results we’re looking for.  Like all new tools, AI will put some people out of work.  Thanks to Thomas Edison, there isn’t a big demand for whalers anymore.  And, like all tools, AI is not inherently good or bad but can be used either way.

From a leadership perspective, I believe AI will allow us to focus more on our people, improving our relationships and allow smaller companies to have a larger impact.  So, I say embrace it and learn to leverage AI.

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