Monday, 25th March 2019

Making AI responsible and effective

84% of business leaders think artificial intelligence (AI) will be critical to their business in three years, but only 15% are aware of AI projects being fully implemented in their organisations.

Despite executives having high expectations for the impact that AI will have on their businesses according to Cognizant’s new report, ‘Making AI Responsible - and Effective, only half of companies have policies and procedures in place to identify and address the ethical considerations of its applications and implementations.  The study analyses the responses of almost 1,000 executives across the financial services, technology, healthcare, retail, manufacturing, insurance and media & entertainment industries in Europe and the US.

 

Whilst executives are enthusiastic about the importance and potential benefits of AI to their business, many lack the strategic focus and consideration for the non-technical aspects that are critical to the success of AI, such as trust, transparency and ethics.

 

Optimism and enthusiasm

The research shows that business leaders are positive about the importance and potential benefits of AI. Roughly two- thirds (63 %) say that AI is extremely or very important to their companies today, and 84 % expect this will be the case three years from now. Lower costs, increased revenues and the ability to introduce new products or services, or to diversify were cited as the key advantages for the future.

 

Companies that are growing much faster than the average business in their industry, in particular, expect major benefits in coming years, with 86% of executives of these fast-growing companies stating AI is extremely or very important to their company’s success, compared with 57% of those at their competitors with slower growth. These industry leaders say they plan to use AI to drive further growth, solidifying their leading positions and pull even further away from the pack. This is reflected in their greater investment in key AI technologies, including computer vision (64% vs 47%), smart robotics/autonomous vehicles (63% vs 43%) and analysis of natural language (67% vs 42%).

 

Almost half of those companies (44%) undertaking at least one AI project expect to increase their employee headcount over the next three years as a result of the impact of AI projects. Retail and financial services industry executives were most likely to expect a boost to employment (56% and 49% respectively).

 

Disconnect between optimism and actual implementation

However, business leaders’ optimism is disconnected from the actual implementation in many companies. While two-thirds of executives said they knew about an AI project at their company, only 24% of that group – just 15% of all respondents – were aware of projects that were fully implemented.

 

Some 40% of respondents said that securing senior management commitment, buy-in by the business and even adequate budget were extremely or very challenging, indicating that many companies are not yet fully committed to AI’s central role in advancing business objectives.

 

Neglect of ethical considerations

Only half of companies have policies and procedures in place to identify and address ethical considerations – either in the initial design of AI applications or in their behaviour after the system is launched.

 

Sanjiv Gossain, European Head, Cognizant Digital Business, commented: ‘The challenge today is less about understanding technical questions and technology capabilities, and more about crafting a strategy, determining the governance structures and practices needed for responsible AI’.

According to Gossain, ‘companies need to pay more attention to the non-technical considerations of AI deployments, many of which are more critical and complex than those related to developing and running the technology itself. AI operates in the real world and this will not only help companies determine which technologies can be used to advance business objectives, but also which have the potential to irritate customers, alienate employees, drive up R&D and deployment costs, and undermine brand reputation’.

 

The report provides three key recommendations to help companies take action and achieve the significant business benefits of AI:

  • Formulate AI strategies. These should focus on opportunities that promise measurable value – not only reduced costs and increased revenue, but also benefits such as improved customer service, entry to new lines of business and enhanced employee experiences. It is especially critical that strategies take a human-centric view of AI so that machines can work successfully alongside and for people.
  • Develop governance structures. Companies will need to work proactively to ensure that AI decision-making is transparent to those involved, that AI earns trust by avoiding errors and data-driven biases; and that AI is personalised and able to provide tailored, relevant and context-aware support as it interacts with humans.
  • Create and maintain responsible AI applications. Because of AI’s potential ubiquity and power, ethical concerns need to be interwoven into everything companies do with the technology. That means building AI systems ethically, and monitoring to ensure that those systems operate ethically over time, even as the AI applications learn and evolve. To be successful, companies will need to boost their ethics-related efforts upfront as AI touches more and more parts of business and society.
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