The speed at which technology has developed over the past decade has created an increasingly bloated C-suite. Chief Information Officer, Chief Technology Officer, Chief Data Officer, Chief Digital Officer, Chief Analytics Officer, Chief Algorithm Officer, etc… the list is endless, it’s a wonder they can all fit in a boardroom let alone stay in their lanes when it comes to defining who has responsibility for what. Which makes it difficult to see the argument that AI requires board level representation - as propagated by people such as chief scientist at Baidu Research and AI guru Andrew Ng - as anything other than one for another unnecessary complication.
The importance AI will have in coming years is not in question. It will cause upheaval at almost every level of society, from the world of work to how we travel. The argument that there should be an expert at C-suite level to help companies fully exploit it is persuasive. Many companies were caught short by the rise of the internet, assuming that it was either a fad or that their own limited knowledge would suffice. They soon went out of business as a result. Early AI adopters will - as early internet adopters did - have a tremendous competitive advantage. Those who go even further and take an ‘AI first’ approach, putting the tech at the heart of their strategy moving forward, will likely see even greater success.
A Chief AI Officer (CAIO) can fill a number of important functions necessary for ensuring that they are well positioned for AI adoption. They can take a view across the entire company to best understand its potential application in each department and the scale of the implementation challenge, designating AI expertise and technology from a centralized team according to need. As Ng notes, AI’s relative immaturity means that talent remains thin on the ground, and it is unlikely that the talent you can get will want to be restricted to an one product or sector. A (good) Chief AI Officer will set out a roadmap around how to integrate AI with the company's overall strategy and fight to ensure resources are available where required.