Will AI Replace Consultants? A Comprehensive Look

Overall, while Artificial Intelligence (AI) certainly has its uses and will continue to play an important role in consulting, it's unlikely to ever fully replace human consultants. When we talk about AI, we rely on metaphor, as we always do when faced with something new and unknown. Metaphors are, by their nature, imperfect, but we must still choose them carefully, because the bad ones can lead us astray. For example, it has become very common to compare AI and powerful geniuses to geniuses in fairy tales.

The metaphor seeks to highlight the difficulty of making powerful entities obey your orders; computer scientist Stuart Russell has cited the parable of King Midas, who demanded that everything he touched be turned to gold, to illustrate the dangers of an AI. Do what you tell him to do instead of what you want him to do. There are several problems with this metaphor, but one of them is that it draws the wrong lessons from the story to which it refers. The point of the Midas parable is that greed will destroy you and that the pursuit of wealth will cost you everything that is truly important. If your reading of the parable is that, when the gods grant you a wish, you must express your desire very, very carefully, then you haven't understood the point.

Therefore, I would like to propose another metaphor for the risks of artificial intelligence. I suggest we think about AI as a management consulting firm, along the lines of McKinsey & Company. Firms like McKinsey are hired for a wide variety of reasons, and AI systems are also used for many reasons. But the similarities between McKinsey, a consulting firm that works with ninety percent of Fortune 100 companies, and AI are striking. Social media companies use machine learning to keep users glued to their feeds.

Similarly, Purdue Pharma used McKinsey to discover how to “boost” OxyContin sales during the opioid epidemic. It promises to offer managers a cheap replacement for human workers, so McKinsey and similar firms helped normalize the practice of mass layoffs as a way to increase stock prices and executive compensation, contributing to the destruction of the middle class in the United States. Keep in mind that you can't just say that you will build AI that only offers prosocial solutions to the problems you're asking him to solve. That is to say that the McKinsey threat can be deactivated by creating a consulting company that only offers these types of solutions. The reality is that Fortune 100 companies will hire McKinsey instead of their prosocial company, because McKinsey solutions will increase shareholder value more than your company's solutions. It will always be possible to build AI that seeks shareholder value above all else, and most companies will prefer to use that AI instead of one constrained by your principles. Is there a way that AI can do more than sharpen the knife of capitalism? To be clear, when I refer to capitalism, I am not referring to the exchange of goods or services for prices determined by a market, which is a property of many economic systems.

When I refer to capitalism, I refer to a specific relationship between capital and labor, in which individuals who have money can profit from the efforts of others. So, in the context of this debate, every time I criticize capitalism, I don't criticize the idea of selling things; I criticize the idea that people who have a lot of money can exercise power over people who actually work. And, more specifically, I criticize the increasing concentration of wealth in an ever smaller number of people, which may or may not be an intrinsic property of capitalism, but which absolutely characterizes capitalism as it is practiced today. As currently deployed, AI often amounts to an effort to analyze a task performed by human beings and find a way to replace the human being. Coincidentally, this is exactly the type of problem that management wants to solve: aid to capital at the expense of labor. There really is nothing like a labor consulting firm that promotes the interests of workers. Can AI take on that role? Can AI do something to help workers instead of management? Some might say that this is not the work of AI but of humans.

That may be true, but it's not the work of AI either. However, that is what it currently does. If we can't find forms of AI to reduce the concentration of wealth, I would say that it is difficult to argue that AI is a neutral technology; much less beneficial. What Žižek advocated is an example of an idea of political philosophy known as accelerationism. There are many different versions of accelerationism but the common denominator that unites left-wing accelerationists is the idea that the only way to improve things is to make them worse. Accelerationism says that it is useless to try to oppose or reform capitalism; instead we have to exacerbate the worst tendencies of capitalism until the entire system collapses.

The only way to overcome capitalism is to step on the accelerator of neoliberalism until the engine explodes. I am not very convinced by statements that AI represents a danger to humanity because it could develop its own goals and prevent us from turning them off. However I think that AI is dangerous in so far as it increases power for capitalism. The apocalyptic scenario is not a manufacturing AI transforming entire planet into paper clips as imagined by famous thought experiment; it's AI helping capitalism do whatever it takes stop us from turning it off and most successful weapon in its arsenal has been its campaign prevent us from considering any alternative. People who criticize new technologies are sometimes called Luddites but it's helpful clarify what Luddites were actually protesting against: they were protesting against machines replacing human labor and reducing wages for workers. In conclusion while Artificial Intelligence has its uses and will continue play important role in consulting it's unlikely ever fully replace human consultants due its potential for increasing power for capitalism and exacerbating existing inequalities.