Imagine for a moment that you are a middle-aged man with an important job who has begun to hear the footsteps of redundancy creeping up behind him. Pretty soon – in the next 15 months, say – you will almost certainly be out.
Luckily, you’re more than comfortable financially. But the trappings of your success will be gone. No more company townhouse in central London. No more limos. No more helicopters and private jets. No more summits and receptions with the not-so-great and not-so-good. You lived the Logan Roy life but pretty soon you’re going to be Kendall Roy, staring blankly at the Hudson River.
What does a man of your self-belief, your relative youth, do in this situation? He rewrites his LinkedIn entry, stressing his interests in this or that developing area where lucrative future employment might lie. Maybe he starts a Substack where he can muse upon this, loftily. He puts himself out there as one of the world’s leading experts in the field. And then he works the contacts he has made until, pretty soon, he has another lucrative executive role.
That’s what a high achiever facing redundancy would do.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Rishi Sunak has just made a big speech on the dangers of AI ahead of hosting a summit on the same topic next week. He is painting a nightmare scenario in which artificial intelligence causes mass unemployment while enabling terrorists and cybercriminals, and wants the world to come together and create a powerful new AI research body to stop things going full Matrix/Terminator. There’s no hint of who Sunak believes might be persuaded to head up this new unit, but headhunters are likely to have been instructed to prioritise short men in ankle-length trousers.
Like almost everything else that Rishi Sunak involves himself in, these efforts look doomed to fail. Not everyone buys into his hellscape vision of a post-AI economy, including his own chancellor Jeremy Hunt, who when questioned in April about AI-enforced job losses declared, “I just don’t buy that.” There’s little prospect of the summit ending with Britain being anointed as the home of global AI regulation – if Sunak can’t get a grip of making his own country’s infrastructure work, who in their right minds is going to hand him the keys to the planet’s tech future?
But that isn’t to say that Sunak’s decision to suddenly prioritise AI won’t have lasting benefits – even if they are only for himself. When he returns to California after defeat at the next general election, it won’t be to idle on the beach or shop for Mexican Coke at Trader Joe’s. It will be to sit in a large glass office somewhere in Silicon Valley, pontificating about something – most likely AI.
After all, it’s not as if there is no precedent for failed British politicians landing highly lucrative senior roles with, say, Meta/Facebook, is it?