“As of now, there is no clear consensus on whether an AI [artificial intelligence] can act as a company board member.”
That’s the answer provided by ChatGPT this week after being asked whether the latest technology advances could provide alternative staffing for boardrooms.
It sounds reassuring—machines are unlikely to take on the mantle of board responsibilities. But notice, the answer didn’t rule out the prospect entirely.
That note of concern aside, the release of the latest version of ChatGPT, and other AIs, in recent weeks has prompted many discussions, no more so than how they will fit into the running of businesses.
Many commentators have urged caution. The Governance Institute advises that companies need to begin developing policies for the use of AIs like ChatGPT, before they are used to provide, among other things, online content templates, customer service correspondence, computer code, sales pitches, summary reports reports and business trends analysis.
One hindrance to placing absolute faith in AI is that it is next to impossible to persuade tools like ChatGPT to offer up a source or citation for the information it use. That raises the issue of credibility for the information it draws upon.
“Because as good as ChatGPT looks on first viewing,” writes the Governance Institute, “the system also has its share of limitations that could cause problems if left unchecked. Much of these limitations stem from the information bank available to it.”
Boon or ban?
Bloomberg recently reported a Gartner poll which found that half of all HR departments polled are currently in the process of developing ChatGPT policies and guidelines to regulate use in the workplace. Meanwhile, around 3% of companies have issued a ban on using ChatGPT, while 34% say they have no plans for a new policy.
Eser Rizaoglu, an analyst with Gartner HR, is quoted saying that IT, legal, compliance and internal audit departments are all involved in the ChatGPT conversation to assess the potential risks and opportunities.
“They’re probably questioning how much guidance, which roles will potentially use it or will not be able to use it and if they should completely ban it or not,” Rizaoglu says.
Elsewhere, there is more optimism about ChatGPT. According to Charles Dane of the Governance Institute of Australia: “We need to ignore the typical media hyperventilation about how AI will impact your life and career prospects and embrace the role AI chatbots will have as a fundamental piece of this decade’s technological infrastructure. Organisations must learn to mitigate the risks and leverage the benefits.”
‘Riddled with biases’
But even Dane warns that ChatGPT is “not designed to find new insights”, while the information it does serve up can be “riddled with biases that may not be immediately apparent to users”. That includes presenting opinions “as if they were verified facts”.
“Boardrooms,” he says, “will have to learn to tackle major issues emerging from AI, from ethical questions, accountability and transparency issues, and liability implications.”
One area where AI might help significantly is with audit and may allow directors and shareholders to access data “in real time without waiting for reports”. Think of that: shareholders reading unfiltered financials at the same time as the CFO.
AI, therefore, is likely to have a major impact on the way companies are run and on governance. There has been much speculation about the possibility of AI taking on a board position. The functionality may be evolving but the legal cover for a machine making board decisions is unlikely to be in place any time soon and for many reasons.
But it is possible directors may be required to use AI as an information source. Microsoft recently showed how Bing , it’s AI “co-pilot for the web”, summarised a quarterly report from one major retailer down to “key takeaways”. It then compared the data with summary information from a competitor.
Technology experts Seán Earley and Sparky Zivin, of the consultancy Teneo, note the flexibility of AI to back decision-making, but warn that all technology is “susceptible to in-built biases”. They recall the tech companies who used AI in their recruitment schemes, only to discover it found mostly white men. There should, therefore, be no rush to make AI your head of HR, let alone your CFO or senior independent director.
‘Mastery of AI is essential’
But AI will inevitably be used in the workplace and at the highest levels. “For CEOs, mastery of AI is essential as it migrates up the corporate food chain from business processes to decisions and, ultimately, leadership,” write Earley and Zivin.
“Failure to grasp the nuances of the coming evolution of AI could result in displacement by those who are well-versed in this new world.”
Let’s finish on our ChapGPT request: could AI become a board member? The answer, we noted, is circumspect. But ChatGPT offers this conclusion: “As AI continues to develop, it is possible that we may see more AI-assisted decision-making in corporate boardrooms.
“Nonetheless, for the foreseeable future, it is unlikely that AI will be granted the same legal rights and obligations as human board members.”
ChatGPT is a tool and as the industrial revolution showed, those who grasp the meaning of new tools get ahead.