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Yes, Your Company Does Need a Chief AI Officer

Updated: Jan 8, 2019


Recently the head of Baidu research, Stanford University professor and Google Brain Co-Founder Andrew Ng sat down with Fortune and spoke about the need for companies to create a new role focused on AI.


His point was that if you are the CEO of a large company you should immediately hire a Chief AI Officer because AI is a foundational technology that will impact every facet of your company and your supply chain and you need someone who can help you oversea this tectonic shift.


I couldn’t agree more and at the core of the book I wrote in 2014 and published in 2015, The Way of the Navigator™ here was the central thought that AI is going to be so impactful and transformational that it will require someone(s) to help businesses, organizations and communities build maps to navigate the complexity that it will cause. For a company this person would likely be a Chief AI Officer.


As Andrew Ng points out, one of the reasons that a Chief AI Officer is so important is that there aren’t really any AI solutions that a company can just buy off the shelf and “plug and play”. They have to be adapted, the word Andrew uses is “contextualized”, to a company’s specific business. This “contextualization” requires someone like a Chief AI Officer, as well as an AI team, to focus on this effort. And as I have written before here the war to hire this talent is fierce and the longer you wait to hire this team the harder it will be.


Many companies that I speak with ask me what a Chief AI Officer looks like and what they should do. The “looks like” component is for a future blog post but as far as what they should do I personally believe that three tasks that should absolutely be core to the Chief AI Officer’s mandate are:


1. Separate the AI hype from the AI reality: There are some amazing breakthroughs happening in AI right now but there is also a bunch of hype out there. With over 300 AI start-ups receiving funding over the past 3 years and with every major technology company talking about their “AI Solution” there is a lot of noise to sift through. Your Chief AI Officer will help you understand what can be done now and what AI will be able to do in 3-5 years.


2. Take a Holistic Approach, Build Roadmaps and Pursue Early Wins: Over time AI will truly have an impact on everything which means that your company will need to re-imagine and re-design pretty much every aspect of your business. But while AI advances are happening quickly not everything is ready for prime time today. The goal of this process should be to identify low hanging fruit that can be implemented now and build a clear 3-5 year roadmap providing direction going forward so that your company is moving towards a common goal and new AI advances can be implemented as they progress.


3. Oversee the “contextualization” (term coined by Andrew Ng) of AI for each business unit: This will require not only a Chief AI officer, but also a team of dedicated experts that can work with the business ops, designers and engineers within each business unit.


Artificial Intelligence and robotics, if implemented correctly, will drive tremendous growth in both productivity and bottom line revenue, and this means that early movers will reap outsized rewards. Andrew Ng compares AI’s upcoming impact to that of electricity and history shows that those factories that re-designed their production around electricity early in the beginning saw a distinct and lasting competitive advantage over those that didn’t.


AI is set to change the world and I agree with Andrew Ng; Companies should immediately hire an expert to help them navigate the complexity this represents.

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