“We had to layoff 90% of our support team because of this AI chatbot.”
Those were the words of Dukaan CEO Suumit Shah in a tweet celebrating the success of letting his team go as Artificial Intelligence (AI) takes over his workforce. Dukaan, the Bangalore-based e-commerce platform, is a business that assists human merchants in launching digital storefronts and selling products online. He sells to humans, not machines.
This article is not about AI taking over jobs. Dukaan isn’t the only company that has reduced its staff. Several other companies, including Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, and Google, have also downsized their workforce as AI takes over certain jobs. IBM, for instance, plans to gradually reduce its workforce as it implements more AI use cases.
Business executives often have to make difficult choices to reduce expenses and increase profits to keep their companies running. One of these challenging decisions is balancing the advantages of AI with the costs of human resources. Sometimes, leaders may have to let go of some employees, retrain others, or restructure the organization to ensure its sustainability. These decisions are not easy and require thoughtful planning, clear communication, and empathy.
Unfortunately, not all CEOs seem to understand this. The situation with Dukaan’s CEO is a prime example of how not to use AI in a socially irresponsible way. He claimed that the AI chatbot, named Lina, significantly reduced customer support response times and costs, and that the layoffs were necessary for the company’s profitability.
Yes, Shah has made a tough decision to keep his business running. However, the issue is the almost celebratory tone he used when he rushed to Twitter to announce that 90% of his support staff had been laid off. His actions sparked outrage and criticism from many. In response to his lack of sensitivity, someone tweeted, “Dude, you disrupted the lives of 90% of your support team & you’re celebrating it in public. You also likely destroyed your customer support.”
So what was the issue with how Shah announced the layoff? Firstly, Shah showed no empathy or regard for his former employees, who had dedicated themselves to his company and deserved better. He didn’t recognize their efforts, provide them with any help or support, or express gratitude for their work. Instead, he boasted about how his AI chatbot surpassed them and how he saved money by letting them go.
Furthermore, Shah neglected to consider the ethical and societal consequences of his actions. He didn’t contemplate how his decision would impact the lives and well-being of his former employees, their families, and communities. He didn’t consider how his customers would feel about interacting with an AI chatbot rather than a human. He didn’t address any potential risks or challenges that might arise from relying on AI for customer support. He also didn’t reflect on how his decision would affect his company’s reputation and values.
AI can be a valuable asset for achieving business success, but it shouldn’t be at the cost of human dignity and values. Leaders must use AI responsibly and ethically. Beyond basic human decency, leaders must view it as their duty to treat their employees with kindness and respect when decisions to implement AI will significantly affect their livelihoods. Poverty increases as AI takes over human jobs.
Business leaders will always have to make decisions that significantly affect the lives of many. However, they can do so by prioritizing the humanity of all involved. Before deciding to replace staff with AI, leaders should weigh the advantages and disadvantages of using AI to achieve their business objectives and compare them with other options. They should consider the costs and benefits not only for the company but also for employees, customers, and society as a whole.
Delivering a difficult message is inherently challenging. However, if the decision means that some employees will be laid off, it’s crucial to do so with dignity and respect. It’s helpful to clarify the reasoning behind the decision and provide severance pay and other benefits where possible.
Business leaders need to understand that while AI may increase productivity and profitability in the short term, AI won’t be purchasing products or utilizing services. In the long run, every service or product produced by AI is intended for human consumption. If there are no humans able to afford the output of AI, how will those businesses survive? It’s vital to remember that human employees are not just numbers; they are a company’s most valuable asset and potential customers.