The automatic corporation?

The intermediate step to a fully automated corporation is one where tasks requiring humans are performed not by employees but are broken into micro-tasks and fulfilled by crowdsourcing (using, for example, services like Mechanical Turk).

Corporations do not scale, and eventually die. That’s because they scale sub-linearly. Their productivity metrics scale by an exponent of ⅘ on the number of employees.

I hypothesize that the management overhead which makes corporations grow sub-linearly is due to the limited information processing capability of individual humans. People at the top do not have local on-the-ground information: how are individual products performing, what are customers’ complaints etc. And the rank-and-file folks on the ground do not have the relevant high-level information: how does what I’m doing translate to the value that the corporation as a whole seeks to maximize? In fact, the the flow of value and information is so complex that employees have pretty much given up on determining that relationship, and know of it only at a macro P&L-center level.

An algorithm will have no such problems with acting on both global as well as fine-grained local information. In fact, I suspect that the more information it gets to act on, the better decisions it will make, making automatic corporations grow super-linearly.

More here, all fascinating, on the concept of an automatic corporation.

When the idea of two-pizza teams was first proposed at Amazon, it was an attempt at accomplishing two thing simultaneously. On the one hand, keeping teams small was an attempt at giving them autonomy in figuring out what strategy and projects to pursue. On the other hand, since each team had to optimize on a fitness function agreed upon with senior management, it was a model for scaling Jeff Bezos and his senior management team's ability to coordinate activities across the company. If you have a limited number of people you trust to choose the fitness functions, that's still a bottleneck.

The idea of an automatic corporation would replace the humans in both the fitness function and project selection process with software which scales infinitely where humans cannot.

This may sound far-fetched, but the author Vivek Haldar notes it already exists in some forms today.

A limited version of what I’m describing already exists. High-frequency trading firms are already pure software, mostly beyond human control or comprehension. The flash crash of 2010 demonstrated this. Companies that are centered around logistics, like FedEx or Walmart, can be already thought of as complex software entities where human worker bees carry out the machine’s instructions.

This happens naturally, because over time more and more of the business logic of a company becomes encoded in software. Humans still have some control (or so they think) but mostly what they’re doing is supplying parameters to the computation. A modern corporation is so complex that it does not fit in the brain of a single person (or a small number of persons). Software carries the slack.