“Vital is still on the board and waiting in the wings is her successor, Vital 2.0,” Dr Finkel told the Australian Governance Summit (AGS). “The experiment was so successful that the (Deepwater) CEO predicts that we will see fully autonomous companies able to operate without any human involvement within the next decade.”

The case of Vital, short for “Validating Investment Tool for Advancing Life Sciences”, was originally dismissed by many as a PR exercise in 2014, but five years on, is being hailed as a success, he said. “I am not here to prophesy the extinction of the human director,” Dr Finkel told the AGS. “But I do want you (directors) to take Vital and her progeny as a challenge.”

Vital was developed to improve the investment success of Deep Knowledge Ventures, he said. “They did it because they were sick of the high failure rate in their biotech investment.” Vital’s job was to map the predictors of risk. She can crunch across millions of data points across 50 parameters describing a target company, stock prices, clinical trials, IP holdings, personal records, research grants and more.

“And then at the board table she would vote on whether or not to make the investment. Of great significance, the human directors agreed not to go ahead without Vital’s approval. She was not legally allowed to be a director, but she was effectively something better. A super director holding veto power on investment decisions.”

AI lawyers are also now beating humans at reviewing non-disclosure contracts and contracts for errors and vulnerabilities. And AI stockbrokers are now ubiquitous on Wall Street, Dr Finkel told the AGS. “They’re good at your jobs, and they’ll keep getting better,” he told assembled directors.

“And an army of AI director-bots, with all those capabilities, could be licensed to millions of companies… displacing several million directors… and be upgraded every night. But those director-bots would still lack something vital – something truly vital – artificial general intelligence: the digital equivalent of the package deal of human abilities, human insights and human experiences. The experts tell us that the world of artificial general intelligence is unlikely to be with us until 2050, perhaps longer. Thus, shareholders, customers and governments who want that package deal will have to look to you for quite some time.

“They will rely on the value that you (directors), and only you, can bring, as a highly capable human being, to your role.” He added: “You have to be capable of asking and answering questions that AI can’t answer. And the best question to ask is should we do this – not could we do this?”