Management in the Age of the Algorithm
An Empirical Note Regarding Making Sense of AI Among Senior Executives
Management, as an activity and as a concept, is by necessity affected by the political, economical, social, and technological context it emerges in. At the moment, this means being affected by a pandemic, but also by a number of emergent technical facts. One of these is the indeterminate shift from logic and intelligence being always already mediated by human action to a state of affairs where algorithmic logic, machine learning, and artificial intelligence take on a more and more dominant role in decision-making. This paper deals with the managerial dilemma of being committed to notions of technological development, and at the same time conflicted when it comes to how the selfsame developments might affect one’s own professional identity. Based on a qualitative study of how top executives view artificial intelligence and the manner this might upend power relations in management, the paper will discuss the complex issue of how algorithmically driven decision-making processes can be understood in an executive mindset, and how this might be critiqued.
Current notions of artificial intelligence and how these might affect organizational work has usually focused on menial and manual labor. The logic has been that only such categories will be truly affected by the limited logical works of emergent AI. That said, modern notions of AI have indicated that a core developmental tendency within this field is the way in which actions such as delegation, reporting, and control (all key managerial functions) can be entrusted to algorithms and associated learning regimes. As notions that would previously have been considered managerial become assigned to machinic logics, what does this mean for categories such as general management as function, the way managers view the same, and the way they identify as specifically managers, leaders, and executives?
By way of an interview study with high-level executives in the Nordics, this paper thus aims to analyze the manner in which corporate executives are attempting to make sense of management in an age of burgeoning AI. Through this, the paper highlights the way in which technological developments are used to illustrate a simplistic notion of progress, even when they could be interrogated for the ways they destabilize and query existing power structures. In the end, the paper aims to show that categories such as “management” play a dual role – both as a valorized category that stabilize organizational discourse, and as an indeterminate category that allows for a radical questioning of the same. By doing so, the paper aims to highlight the manner in which the marker of “management” is more than an objective category, and also a symbol and signifier of power in an executive matrix, one that makes and potentially breaks notions of managerial identity.