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Newest Must Hire – Chief AI Officer

By Mark G. McLaughlin

May 02, 2018 - 11:52 am

Content sponsored by PNC Bank

The world has already entered “the age of AI,” say artificial intelligence researchers Paul R. Daughtery and H. James Wilson, authors of the new book “Human+Machine: Reimagining Work in the Age of AI.” This new world offers businesses many opportunities, but as Daughtery and Wilson warn, those businesses will also be held responsible for how they make use of AI. The Facebook hearings now being held on Capitol Hill are but the forerunner of more to come, and companies need someone in the executive suite who can respond to the very kinds of things for which Facebook is now being held accountable.

The need for an AI team – and someone to lead it

Companies have always accumulated, digested and made use of data to grow their businesses and to stay ahead of the competition. The speed with which that is now done as well as the massive amount of data that is being collected is increasingly being done by AI algorithms. The use of AI in everything from data mining to manufacturing and marketing is growing rapidly, and someone has to not only supervise that AI, but also tap its potential. Those who can do so are now among the most sought-after in what has become “a talent war for AI,” says Baidu's chief scientists, Andrew Ng.

“You need a chief AI officer,” NG told Fortune magazine over a year ago, especially “if you have a lot of data and you want to create value from that data.” That is why many companies are already building what he calls their “AI teams,” and a team, as any sports fan knows, is only as good as its coach. In business terms, that coach would be the Chief AI Officer (C-AI-O).

The AI battleground – and companies need a general to win the fight

“AI is becoming a major battleground,” especially but not only for tech firms, says Investor's Business Daily (IBD). It is also a “top 10 spending priority” for many companies, top Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty told IBD, who adds that “this is the most bullish CIOs have ever been in overall IT budget growth in the past 10 years.” Companies that want to become “a more serious player in the AI/machine learning industry,” the top Morgan Stanley analyst told the magazine, are bringing AI experts into the C-suite.

CIOs bringing on CAIOs

Most large companies already have a CIO (Chief Information Officer). The most forward-thinking of those CIOs understand that “building the right top-level talent is critical,” reports Michael Zammuto of the CIO Contributor Network, and have already discovered that “CIOs benefit from creating a C-level position to lead the charge.” The AI “landscape” as he explains, is already vast, but is also still expanding – and threatening.

“No business is safe anymore,” Zammuto explains. “Because of this AI landscape, competitors can come from anywhere, even in ways the internet didn't allow. AI has unprecedented potential to drive 'winner-take-all' disruptions, which means simply copying or following the leader is as risky as doing nothing.”

Few CIOs understand or are trained to deal with the dangers – or take advantages of the massive potential – of AI, adds Zammuto. “Your data scientist can help unlock massive potential,” says Zammuto, “but a CAIO is needed to make sure the vision has a buy-in. It is essential for the enterprise to have a separate, senior-level committed to evangelizing AI's potential,” he adds, and to “be devoted to finding opportunities that allow a company to exploit the advances in AI for its benefit.”

What does a CAIO do?

A CAIO is more than just an “evangelist” or “tech guru.” They oversee the collection and centralizing of data, and makes it accessible to every part of a company. Their job is also to find the value that AI can bring to a company, and to recruit, manage and retain the right AI talent that can best serve the company's needs.

Finally, a CAIO has to be able to explain and work with the rest of the C-suite to make the most of what is mined from AI. As Steven Chien, who heads up the AI intel group at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, explains, many executives still “don't see how big AI is going to be,” and are doing so “at their own peril. My point,” he says in advocating for CAIOs, “is that it is much beyond passive archiving or even data mining. It's exploiting the knowledge from that data.”

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