What Upper Management Needs to Know About AI


AI is everywhere today, and huge promises have been made on its impact. But does the c-suite really know its advantages?

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning aren’t just fancy analytics or robots; they represent new modes of addressing customer requirements and building markets.

For that reason, it’s in the best interest of business executives — CEOs, CFOs, CMOs and so forth — to have at least a fundamental understanding of these emerging technologies. But do they?

A recent survey of executives by EY finds lack of upper management embrace of AI is a leading inhibiting factor to adoption. Close to half, 48%, cite a lack of managerial understanding and sponsorship as their greatest challenge, right behind talent shortages and integrating AI into processes.

In a recent post, Pedro Uria Recio, formerly with McKinsey, explored some of the finer points of machine learning that CEOs (and presumably, his or her C-level colleagues) should be aware. “The job of a CEO in the age of artificial intelligence is to design new combinations of technologies, assets as well as human and machine skills to revolutionize business models,” he states. “Understanding human intelligence alone is no longer enough.”

See also: Manual intervention still needed with AI

The three key components of AI C-level business executives include supervised learning; unsupervised learning; and reinforcement learning, Recio points out. “Humans and algorithms will collaborate together in the enterprise. Instilling a data-driven culture whereby the first reflex to solve a problem is looking at data, requires the CEO to understand at least the very basics of the technologies that make it possible to learn from data.”

Judson Althoff, executive VP at Microsoft, dove into detail in a recent post on the various pieces of AI strategy that CEOs need to bring together:

  • Align business leaders: “The most important responsibility CEOs have in setting an AI strategy is aligning their business leaders on a set of beliefs about how it will be developed and managed.”
  • Provide ethical direction: “Leaders must discuss how AI systems might inadvertently infringe on personal freedoms of customers or employees, such as through denials of service. In healthcare, for example, the C-suite must examine whether AI helping with diagnoses could result in some patients getting denied certain treatments.”
  • Coordinate how AI efforts are managed: “CEOs must ensure their position relative to how AI will be used is clearly communicated, set appropriate parameters, and continuously review the system’s purpose, the capabilities of those developing, managing and using it, and the reliability of the system and the human decisions it influences.”

Althoff goes as far as to recommend CEOs “create their ‘AI manifesto’ that delineates the organization’s position on issues of trust, fairness, transparency, privacy, safety, inclusiveness and more.”


About Joe McKendrick

Joe McKendrick is RTInsights Industry Editor and industry analyst focusing on artificial intelligence, digital, cloud and Big Data topics. His work also appears in Forbes an Harvard Business Review. Over the last three years, he served as co-chair for the AI Summit in New York, as well as on the organizing committee for IEEE's International Conferences on Edge Computing. (full bio). Follow him on Twitter @joemckendrick.

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