What Directors Need To Know About AI In 2018

It’s a hot topic in boardrooms across the country—artificial intelligence technology and what it can do to increase efficiencies for businesses.

Many organizations are already leveraging this technology, but it won’t be replacing human workers at an alarming rate in the near future, according to Mike Baccala, PwC’s U.S. Assurance Innovation Leader. AI works best when it brings data and teams from different disciplines together, and the technology requires human-machine collaboration.

“We underestimate the human condition at times,” Baccala told Corporate Board Member. “And if you look at the skills and the things that people bring to the table—that can be in business, professional service, complex problem solving, creativity, emotional intelligence, critical thinking—those are all in judgement, those are all things that will be very difficult for AI to reproduce.”

PwC’s 2018 AI Predictions report found that these uniquely human skillsets are critical to business success, and that it’s up to leadership to create environments where those skills can be combined with emerging technology to maximize efficiencies.

“You need people who understand the data. That data needs to be properly understood and labeled and then you can begin this process of moving down the path of AI.” – Mike Baccala

“We have got to make sure our workforce begins to understand and develop the skills that allow them to work effectively with machines to get superior outcomes,” Baccala says. “And that’s a strategy that organizations, boards, the university system, and from a fundamental skill perspective needs to have some focus.”

Globally, AI has become a priority for governments looking to get ahead of the pack in the race for artificial intelligence supremacy. According to PwC’s 2017 Global Artificial Intelligence Study, China is expected to see the world’s biggest AI gains by 2030 (26.1%), with North America following behind (14.5%).

“China is clearly going to take a fairly dominant position here,” Baccala says. “It’s certainly an area that the world is attacking and seeing what the value is, and there’s a lot of money being spent. And I think the return on that investment will come around at some point, but it will take time.”

AI technology is also likely to be used in cyberattacks moving forward, through things such as intelligent malware, ransomware and AI-driven coordinated attacks. Tech-savvy organizations are already beginning to use AI in their cybersecurity efforts.

“I think there’s a good bit of investment being made,” Baccala says. “Seven percent of executives say their organization plans to invest looking at AI as part of their cybersecurity safeguards, using machine learning and AI, and that’s wise. We would suggest that that probably needs to go North pretty quickly, so that organizations can continue to stay ahead of the curve.”

Since AI is completely dependent upon data, one thing that boards need to keep in mind when wading into the AI waters is that there are real foundational investments that need to be made around the data their company is going to be using as part of this process.

“You need people who understand the data. That data needs to be properly understood and labeled and then you can begin this process of moving down the path of AI,” Baccala says. “Most organizations don’t have great data hygiene at this point. They don’t have great data management in foundation. If you struggle with analytics, you’re really going struggle with AI.”