Artificial Intelligence (AI) is rapidly becoming the biggest issue on the agenda for many businesses. The current speed of development, the sheer range of possible applications, and the potential impact of AI suggest that it's time for CEOs to pay attention. So, what are the questions every CEO should be asking?
Futurist Rohit Talwar, CEO of Fast Future Publishing believes there are ten questions that need to be asked in order to assess and invest in AI's transformative potential:
- What's the fuss about? AI will change the philosophy, practice and management of business. It is beginning to transform businesses and replace even senior management and leadership roles. CEOs must invest the necessary time and attention to understand what AI is and where the opportunities are.
- What's its potential? Start by educating yourself about its potential and undertake an internal analysis of where it could be deployed and what competitors are doing. Take a broader perspective of the potential roles AI could play from smarter production management, to customer targeting and broad-based decision making.
- How fast is it moving? The pace of AI development has caught most unaware. Large scale investment is being made by companies like Google, IBM, Microsoft, Uber and Baidu. In some cases, firms are literally "betting the ranch" on AI. We might soon see anything from robot lawyers to ultra-intelligent mobile personal assistants.
- How deep should we take it? Many firms are looking at relatively narrow deployments to automate rule-based decision making and predict future demand and customer behaviour from accumulated data. Others are looking at much broader uses such as intelligent HR, finance and legal advisors and real-time data analytics of live transactions.
- Could it take the CEO's Job? Perhaps some of the most extreme applications include the creation of "human free" automated businesses where everything from strategy to operational processes are embedded "in the system". These so-called "distributed autonomous organisations" could become increasingly common. They are already being used to manage millions of transactions - e.g. the automated dispute resolution systems in online auction platforms.
- Who should lead? This is not just another IT project. Artificial Intelligence has a much broader role and potential impact – so it should be the responsibility of the CEO, COO or business transformation head to drive the identification, piloting and application of AI solutions across all aspects of the business.
- What would success look like? The mantra should be to "fail fast and cheap" - bringing in suppliers, customers and other value chain partners early on to see if there is commercial merit in an idea. There can be as much learning from a failed project as a successful one.
- How do we preserve the feminine? Organisations and individuals display a mix of feminine and masculine characteristics. The challenge is to maintain the feminine in the human face of the organisation, and avoid the tendency for AI systems to display a more masculine and "robotic" persona.
- How will staff respond? AI is already being deployed to automate clerical, manual and semi-skilled labour and is now supporting and replacing professionals in domains such as engineering, medicine, legal, and accountancy. What's your strategy for overcoming resistance and helping those who will be displaced by AI? How will you ensure those making it to senior positions have the necessary experience and expertise if staff numbers further down the pyramid are being reduced?
- How do we address social impact? There is a growing concern that unemployment levels could rise on a permanent basis. Research estimates suggest AI could replace 30-80% of all current jobs in the next 5-20 years. So, should we support the ideas of a guaranteed basic income for all - as is being explored by Finland, Canada and the Netherlands?
The pace of development and potential of AI mean that it is not something we can afford to put off - it is perhaps the single most important area of decision making business leaders will face over the next few years. The depth of a CEOs understanding of AI could be the crucial differentiator between success and failure of firms in a fast-changing world.
About Rohit Talwar
Rohit Talwar is a global futurist, strategic advisor and the CEO of Fast Future Research and Fast Future Publishing. He advises business, government and NGO leaders around the world on how to prepare for and create the future in an increasingly disrupted world. He is the editor of a recently published book on The Future of Business www.fastfuturepublishing.com. The book draws on contributions from 62 future thinkers around the world to explore how developments such as AI and robotics could transform existing industries, create new trillion-dollar sectors and reinvent business over the next decade.