The impact of artificial intelligence and robotics on employment opportunities have always been a topic of much speculation. When it comes to organising and manipulating data, processing complex mathematical problems, and executing tasks in the blink of an eye, artificial intelligence and robotics are the most preferred choice. As a result, artificial intelligence has penetrated almost every industry, from construction, transport, and manufacturing to business intelligence, education, and healthcare. It is, therefore, not surprising that many silicon valley figures, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, believe that not only can artificial intelligence support and enhance existing jobs, but it can also create new roles.
A report generated by Gartner suggests that by 2020, artificial intelligence would generate an estimated 2.3 million jobs. This figure was calculated by taking into account the 1.8 million jobs made simpler by automation. However, like any other technology, when it comes to domain skills, artificial intelligence and robotics also require dedicated training courses. This has spurred the need for artificial intelligence courses, thus preparing professionals for a new wave of change brought about by innovations in robotics and artificial intelligence.
Who would have thought that technology could significantly hack its way into the role of the company secretary that goes back well over years. Who would have thought that one day a robot would be sitting in the boardroom making decisions. These thoughts are now real and the intrusion of technology that we have seen in so many aspects of our daily lives may soon be with us in our professional lives. So is there a possibility that Artificial Intelligence can take over jobs? Can artificial intelligence make humans obsolete?
Regardless of the answer, for better or for worse, the graver question that arises here would be is Artificial Intelligence beneficial to our professional lives and whether it is reliable to accommodate with the business needs and handle public relations. Even with the current technological advancements, can Artificial Intelligence be depended upon?
What is Artificial Intelligence?
The modern definition of artificial intelligence is “the study and design of intelligent agents”, where an intelligent agent is a system that perceives its environment and takes actions which maximizes its chances of success.
It can be agreed that Artificial Intelligence simplifies our life for better and has made humans dependable to a greater degree but to what extent can machines be relied upon to undertake jobs that are critical of a human mind.
Artificial Intelligence: Boon or Bane
There has been a lot of hype around Artificial Intelligence and how it’s advancement would simplify human lives. However, in the words quoted by Max Tegmark, professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the scientific director of the Foundational Questions Institute, “Everything we love about civilization is a product of intelligence, so amplifying our human intelligence with Artificial Intelligence has the potential of helping civilization flourish like never before – as long as we manage to keep the technology beneficial.”
One massive advantage of Artificial Intelligence is its potential to complete mundane tasks through intricate automation that will increase productivity. Theoretically, this can even remove “boring” tasks from humans and free them up to be increasingly creative. Using Artificial Intelligence alongside cognitive technologies can help make faster decisions and carry out actions quicker.
The phrase “human error” was born because humans, naturally, make mistakes from time to time. Computers however, do not make these mistakes – that is, of course, assuming they are programmed properly. With artificial intelligence, data could be processed error-free, no matter how big the dataset might be.
Facial recognition is already being implemented in Dubai shopping malls which enable robots to analyse the facial expressions of humans to detect whether they are happy or sad so as to gauge customer satisfaction. Automated machines are already present in meetings which are conducted via Skype so as to track facial expressions, which may be missed by the other participants. Facial expressions go a long way in identifying a participant’s mood, hostility and co-operation – this is useful when conducting board evaluations to assess the performance of directors in relation to the tone that they set in meetings and how this affects the overall functioning of the board.
Before reaching to any conclusion on the benefits of Artificial Intelligence, do we ever question the requirement of it in our daily lives. Subconsciously, we tend to only concentrate on the fact that Artificial Intelligence is here to simplify our life, without realizing that this speedy advancement in Artificial Intelligence is capable of taking over all human jobs. In the long term, the pertinent question that arises is what will happen if the quest for strong Artificial Intelligence succeeds and an Artificial Intelligence system becomes better than humans at all cognitive tasks.
Artificial Intelligence is beneficial as long as its goals are aligned with ours; it understands, adopts and retains those goals. There have been many debates on the benefits of Artificial Intelligence, however, the artificial intelligence which is programmed to do something beneficial, may develop a destructive method for achieving its goal: This can happen whenever we fail to fully align the artificial intelligence’s goals with ours. Say for example, if you ask an obedient intelligent car to take you to the Airport as fast as possible, it might get you there chased by helicopters and covered in vomit, doing not what you wanted but literally what you asked for.
We face a choice. One option is to be complacent. We may just build machines that can do everything humans can do and not worry about the consequences that the technology we are building will make all humans obsolete, and what could possibly go wrong with that.
Today, multiple software’s built on artificial intelligence are available in the market that offer automated services of the work mainly performed by Company Secretaries. Developments in technology have redefined aspects of the role in a marked way, with meeting administration, entity management and statutory filings, all moving online. Many previously administratiove, onerous and paper-heavy tasks, like the maintenance of statutory registers and filing annual returns, can now all be done electronically and by more junior staff, as these softwares still require feeding of data to generate desired results and a continuous check on its effectiveness, freeing senior company secretaries for more strategic work.
Software habitually outperforms humans in terms of processing information at speed or harmonising it across different locations. Global entity management and corporate governance software products are now commonplace, offering company-wide systems for all of an organisation’s governance needs.
In addition, software has streamlined the meeting process, removing the need for board papers to be physically collated, checked, sent out and archived. Meetings can now be managed securely online, with the latest papers available at the touch of a button to all board members, wherever they might be.
The rapid strides being made in Artificial Intelligence mean that we are indeed on the edge of a new age of automation, with machines now able to undertake tasks previously thought to call for human judgment and experience.
But such technology, brings with it the issues such as hacking and abuse of the company data by third parties, threat of data misuse by the software owner, crashing of the system or the software leading to loss of data if not backed-up or incorrect interpretation of results by artificial intelligence of the data fed into the software, if left unsupervised.
Artificial Intelligence also carries the risk, in the minds of some, of taking control away from humans – de-humanising actions in many ways. Humans can take unique circumstances and judgement calls into account when they make their decisions, something that Artificial Intelligence may never be able to do.
We still need to invest much more in Artificial Intelligence safety research, because as we put Artificial Intelligence in charge of even more decisions and infrastructure, we need to figure out how to transform today’s buggy and hackable computers into robust artificial intelligence systems that we can really trust, because otherwise, all this awesome new technology can malfunction and harm us, or get hacked and be turned against us. This Artificial Intelligence safety work has to include work on artificial intelligence value alignment, because the real threat from Artificial Intelligence isn’t malice, but competence.
The Role of a Company Secretary
The role of a Company Secretary, though overlooked and underestimated by many as a repetitive and administration exercise, does not change the responsibilities that companies adhere to and the tasks that company secretaries must do. The role comprises both administrative and technical aspects and has evolved exponentially in the last few years.
It is a common notion even among company secretaries, that Artificial Intelligence can and will replace the role of a Company Secretary in forceable future, but is this notion true.
The below table explains the broader role a Company Secretary is required to administer.
Artificial Intelligence: Threat or Opportunity for Company Secretary
Infusion of Limited Artificial Intelligence to the Role of Company Secretary
The appointment of the Company Secretary is regulated by the Companies Act, which provides that the incumbent must have the requisite knowledge of, or experience in, relevant laws. This is a pertinent requirement when looking at the possible impact of Artificial Intelligence in the sphere of the role of a Company Secretary when questioning whether a robot would have the necessary experience in law to fully discharge the Company Secretary’s role.
The possible impact of Artificial Intelligence on the role and tasks of the Company Secretary is most likely that Artificial Intelligence will abolish the repetitive and administrative tasks, which still form part of the Company Secretary’s role.
This does not mean that future company secretaries would not need to continue to acquaint themselves with these tasks, as there will always be nuances specific to a company, and company secretaries would need to be able to review the correctness or otherwise of such documents.
Artificial Intelligence will reduce the manual workload and will automate lower level functions of the Company Secretary, thereby improving due diligence processes and providing assistance with compliance procedures. Instead of viewing Artificial Intelligence as a threat to the Company Secretary role, Artificial Intelligence should be seen as an opportunity to improve the overall knowledge base and fiduciary controls within the company. Artificial Intelligence will not eradicate the strategic functions within the company nor will it absolve the advisory functions of the Company Secretary. Artificial Intelligence will assist the Company Secretary to expedite research on various topics/issues such as confirming that possible new directors are not conflicted on any other platform prior to appointing them to the board by running extensive research throughout various social platforms.
“GET EMPOWERED, NOT OVERPOWERED BY ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE”
Given the above and from a strategic perspective, there are areas where there is scope for inclusion of artificial intelligence in the day-to-day administrative tasks of Company Secretary. Instead of dreading Artificial Intelligence, the focus should be on entrenching and growing the tasks of the Company Secretary, which are not susceptible to automation and to have less focus on the tasks, which can be automated. In our view, this will create a more challenging and rewarding working environment for the Company Secretary and will maximise the knowledge and skill of the Company Secretary thus enabling better job performance and processes. The automation of repetitive and administrative tasks would enable the Company Secretary to focus more time on more complex tasks.
Intelligent verification software might mean that the size of company secretarial teams reduces as the more administrative work becomes automated, but there will always be a need for the human touch: from the person who decides and organises which board papers need to be uploaded, to the person who can listen to a non-executive director’s concerns and smooths out issues with the executives.
Machines lack common sense and cannot always pick up on social and emotional cues, something that is at the core of the company secretarial role.
Corporate governance is about being a good corporate citizen which speaks to the issue of job creation. It is vital for company secretaries to upskill junior company secretaries by for example, having those charged with doing company secretarial administrative tasks be trained and up-skilled to perform more of the complex duties of a company secretary.
Commercial and ethical decisions still rest with humans rather than computers, as does the management of relationships and boardroom dynamics, and the advisory and problem-solving role that the company secretary enjoys in the boardroom is unlikely to be entrusted to a robot just yet.
Company secretaries will always have a fundamental role to play within a company as the face of corporate governance – this cannot be automated. The attitude towards the development of Artificial Intelligence ought to be positive with company secretaries seeing Artificial Intelligence as an opportunity to allow them a greater voice within an organisation by having more time to focus on ensuring that the company is a good corporate citizen and legally compliant, and spending less time on administrative and repetitive tasks.