APPOINTING AI TO THE BOARD

By Josephine Victoria Yam, J.D., LLM.
2018 November 20

Talk about taking board diversity to a whole new level.

Imagine appointing an artificial intelligence (AI) machine to your organization's board of directors. Seems like an episode from Netflix’s Black Mirror, right? Yes. Except that it’s not.

In Hong Kong, a venture capital firm appointed an AI machine called Vital to serve as a director on its board. Vital is the acronym for Validating Investment Tool for Advancing Life Sciences. It's the first AI system in the world that a governance board has appointed to have a seat in the boardroom.

Vital conducts a risk assessment that reveals patterns of successful investments using big data. These large data sets include patent applications, grants, scientific literature, financial information, clinical trials, social media, competitor data and biographies of executive teams. After its risk assessment, Vital casts a vote like a human board director. It recommends whether the firm should invest in prospective biotech companies.

According to Dmitry Kaminskiy, the firm’s managing partner, Vital saved his firm from going bankrupt. The AI machine “uncovered trends not immediately obvious to humans” and "helped the board make more logical decisions”.

Is this an isolated instance of a company capitalizing on the AI hype?

Not so. At least that's what Karl Schwab, Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum says in his book “The Fourth Industrial Revolution”. In fact, he identifies the phenomenon of an AI machine sitting on company’s board of directors as one of the 21 game-changing technologies of the AI revolution.

So here’s a question that worries many people: Will AI machines become wiser than humans and thus replace them eventually?

Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman thinks so. In Ajay Agrawal's book “Prediction Machines", Dr. Kahneman explained:

“The robot will be much better at statistical reasoning and less enamored with stories and narratives than people are… The robot would be wiser. A robot will be endowed with broad framing…when it has learned enough, it will be wiser than we people because we do not have broad framing. We are narrow thinkers, we are noisy thinkers, and it is very easy to improve upon us. I do not think that there is very much that we can do that computers will not eventually [learn] to do.”

Moreover, AI machines may be more effective at board governance than humans. It was noted that there's “no risk of the robo-director being captured by management and favouring executives. There is no competing board work or danger that the robo- director will be influenced by internal boardroom dynamics”.

But Melanie Mitchell disagrees. In her New York Times article, “Artificial Intelligence Hits the Barrier of Meaning”, she doused the flames of human fear that AI machines will be much smarter than humans and will eventually replace them without mercy. That fear is unfounded because AI machines lack common-sense knowledge and human understanding.

“Today’s AI systems sorely lack the essence of human intelligence: understanding the situations we experience, being able to grasp their meaning…Behind the facade of humanlike visual abilities, linguistic fluency and game-playing prowess, these programs do not — in any humanlike way — understand the inputs they process or the outputs they produce…What would be required to surmount this barrier, to give machines the ability to more deeply understand the situations they face…? To find the answer, we need to look to the study of human cognition.”

Thus, it will be a very long time from now when AI machines achieve the level of human intelligence.

Until then, companies will continue appointing human board directors who are creative, empathetic and emotionally intelligent. Board directors who will use common-sense knowledge to make sound governance decisions.  Boards directors who will use AI machines to augment their human intelligence, but not replace it.

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