A hundred years ago, electricity transformed countless industries; 20 years ago the internet did, too. Artificial intelligence is about to do the same. To take advantage, companies need to understand what AI can do and how it relates to their strategies. But how should you organize your leadership team to best prepare for this coming disruption? Follow history.
A hundred years ago, electricity was really complicated. You had to choose between AC and DC power, different voltages, different levels of reliability, pricing, and so on. And it was hard to figure out how to use electricity: Should you focus on building electric lights? Or replace your gas turbine with an electric motor? Thus many companies hired a VP of Electricity to help them organize their efforts and make sure each function within the company was considering electricity for its own purposes or its products. As electricity matured, the role went away.
Recently, with the evolution of IT and the internet, we saw the rise of CIOs to help companies organize their information. As IT matures, it is increasingly becoming the CEO’s role to develop their companies’ internet strategy. Indeed, many S&P 500 companies wish they had developed their internet strategy earlier. Those that did now have an advantage. Five years from now, we will be saying the same about AI strategy.
“AI is still immature and evolving quickly, so it is unreasonable to expect everyone in the C-suite to understand it completely,” writes HBR‘s Andrew Ng. “But if your industry generates a large amount of data, there is a good chance that AI can be used to transform that data into value.” Ng has led AI teams at Google, Stanford, and Baidu, and based on that experience, he shares recommended traits to look for in a chief AI officer.