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Should your next big hire be a chief A.I. officer?

Sharon Gaudin | May 2, 2017
Debate simmers over the need for C-suite oversight of artificial intelligence in the enterprise.

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As companies increasingly turn to artificial intelligence to communicate with customers, make sense of big data and find answers to vexing questions, some say it's time to think about hiring a chief A.I. officer.

A chief artificial intelligence Officer – or CAIO -- could round out your C-level execs, sitting at the big table with your CIO, CFO, CTO and CEO.

"A.I. is going to be really important to some companies – enough to have top officers who will focus on just that," said Steve Chien, head of the artificial intelligence group for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "And beyond that, you'll want every employee thinking about how A.I. can improve what they do and you'll want a chief A.I. officer overseeing all of that. They should be constantly thinking about how A.I. can improve things."

steve chien jpl
JPL/NASA Steve Chien is the head of artificial intelligence for NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab.

Chien said there's growing interest in seating CAIOs at large companies. He's noticed this firsthand because he's been getting calls from head hunters looking to recruit him for the jobs.

While he hasn't taken the bait and loves his job at JPL, where he works with autonomous systems for space exploration, Chien said he's been approached by airlines, food manufacturers, mining companies and pharmaceuticals.

Not all of those companies were looking specifically for an executive-level manager, but they all were looking for someone to oversee artificial intelligence efforts, regardless of the job title.

The JPL doesn't have a CAIO, but Chien said there have been discussions about the need for one in an organization so focused on machine learning, A.I., autonomy and robotics.

With interest in the use of A.I. growing at companies, it could make sense to have someone in charge of its use. According to a Forrester Research 2016 survey of 3,343 global data and analytics decision-makers, 41% of companies around the world are investing in A.I. and 20% are planning to invest in the technology next year.  

"A.I. is still immature and evolving quickly, so it is unreasonable to expect everyone in the C-suite to understand it completely," wrote Andrew Ng, a renowned A.I. scientist, in an article posted in November in the Harvard Business Review. "But if your industry generates a large amount of data, there is a good chance that A.I. can be used to transform that data into value. To the majority of companies that have data but lack deep A.I. knowledge, I recommend hiring a chief A.I. officer or a VP of A.I."

 

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