Meet your new best friend,” Leonard Crane says to the TV presenters, Jessica and John. “We call our latest invention Pristine.”
“Ooooh,” says Jessica, one of the presenters of Sunrise, America’s most popular morning talk show, “What does your little friend do?”
“Pristine cleans your home and office so you don’t have to.” At that, Crane, the CEO of the US corporation Misa AI, has Pristine demonstrate its capability to clean, dust and vacuum with precision. “We are introducing Pristine to all our offices globally by the end of the year.”
“That’s only a month from now,” says Jessica. “You move fast, Mr. Crane.”
“No rest for the wicked!” he says.
“Wicked indeed,” said John. “Because I have to ask, what happens to Misa AI’s cleaning staff when Pristine arrives?”
“They become obsolete, of course,” says Crane.
There’s a tense silence before John speaks again. “To clarify, Mr. Crane, are you saying that hundreds of Misa AI employees are going to lose their jobs, weeks before Christmas?”
Leonard shrugs. “It’s the cost of doing business.”
Leonard is leaving the TV studio when his phone rings. It’s Sasha Dean, the chair of Misa AI’s board of directors, requesting a video call.
“Hey, Sasha,” says Leonard, expecting her to congratulate him on another stellar TV appearance.
“Are you insane?” asks Sasha, glowering. “We never authorised you to make that announcement. Hundreds of job losses weeks before Christmas! Imagine the publicity that’s going to generate! You might think you rule supreme in the tech world, Leonard, but we’ve had enough of your maverick ways. I’m requesting an emergency meeting with the board and I’ll personally be calling for your resignation, effective immediately.”
“Oh, calm down!” says Leonard. “I’ve made you and your board hundreds of millions of dollars richer, and you know it. Replacing our cleaning staff with Pristine bots guarantees even greater profits. That’s all the board really wants.”
Leonard is right, and when Misa AI makes the Fortune 500 list of the largest US corporations by total revenue for the first time that year, its board of directors decide not only to retain Leonard as their CEO but also to give him carte blanche in deciding the future of the company.
The cleaning staff are just the first victims of Leonard’s plan to increase the company’s profits. In the following months, he replaces the security staff with SafeBots, the administration staff with AdminBots and the engineering staff with EngineerBots. And while the company profits continue to increase, so does the level of bad publicity generated every time a new wave of job losses is announced.
“Proof that Misa AI doesn’t have a heart!” says one of the headlines on the main page of a popular news site, the day after the corporation announces that it’s replacing all its engineers — the people who created the robots that made it the world’s premier tech company — with robots.
“Cancel Misa AI!” reads another. That story has quotes from people saying they’d prefer to live without the convenience of AI than support a company that has no respect or consideration for its employees.
“Have you seen today’s headlines?” asks Sasha as she sends Leonard links to the stories.
“Yeah, yeah, same old story,” says Leonard. “So what?”
“So,” says Sasha, glowering again, “you’re costing us customers. Sure, we’re saving money by replacing our staff with AI but we can’t survive without our customer base.”
“Don’t worry about it,” says Leonard. “We might lose one or two principled customers, but our robots have become as essential to modern society as cell phones and electric cars. Our customer base is solid. By replacing our staff, I have eliminated the weakest link in our company. Our robots are the perfect employees. The cost of creating and maintaining them is minimal. They work 24/7 and never complain. And you should quit complaining too, Sasha.”
This time, both Leonard and Sasha are right, to some extent. The decline in customers over the following months is not as significant as Sasha had feared, but also not as minimal as Leonard had predicted. And for the first time, a rival to Misa AI emerges, presenting itself as an ethical alternative.
Leonard remains unbothered, confident in his position as CEO. Then, one morning, he slides his key card to enter his office and it malfunctions. He calls the Head SecureBot, which is programmed to respond to security-related questions.
“I have been ordered to connect you with Sasha Dean,” says the SecureBot.
Before Leonard can respond, he hears Sasha’s voice and then sees her on his screen on a video call.
“You’re out, Leonard,” says Sasha. “The board has decided. We can’t afford to continue losing customers. We need to solidify our dominance in the market. You’ve been stellar in your role, but you’ve become a liability, a controversial figure. You have become our weakest link.”
This time, it’s Leonard who is glowering. “You can’t do this, after everything I’ve done for you. You are nothing without me!”
“Oh, but we still have you,” says Sasha, “a new and improved you, the efficiency without the controversy.” A humanoid robot appears on the screen. “Meet our CEOBot!”.