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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.

Ng founded and led the Google Brain Deep Learning Project from 2011 to 2012 and was chief scientist at Chinese search company Baidu from 2014 to March of this year. Today he is an adjunct professor at Stanford University.

Since he's moving out of his position at Baidu, Ng said he's not doing interviews and that the article he wrote in November represents his views on the future of CAIOs.

"The benefit of a chief A.I. officer is having someone who can make sure A.I. gets applied across silos," Ng wrote. "A dedicated A.I. team has a higher chance of attracting A.I. talent and maintaining standards… But the dedicated team needs leadership, and I am seeing more companies hire senior A.I. leaders to build up A.I. teams across functions."

Not everyone agrees, however.

Brandon Purcell, an analyst at Forrester Research, said A.I. doesn't warrant its own C-level officer.

"I believe in the promise of A.I., but it will be embedded in each line of business, and those lines of business will own those specific instances of A.I.," he said. "I don't think it will need its own chief. The person I think should spearhead A.I. is the chief data officer or the chief analytics officer because they understand how machine learning works."

Purcell added that he envisions big tech companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon and Apple having a CAIO because so much of their work will increasingly depend on A.I.

However, that won't be the case for most companies, not for a while anyway.

Whit Andrews, an analyst with Gartner, said the position is largely unneeded.

"Organizations should be turning to the chief data officer to serve the role of chief A.I. officer," he said. "If you don't have a chief data officer, why is that?... I need a person to whom I can turn who will guide us through this difficult moment,and that makes perfect sense but that does not mean you should have a chief officer for everything."

A chief data officer, according to Andrews, would handle the infrastructure for A.I. and the data needed for it to work.

He said large finance companies, as well as companies involved with autonomous vehicles, gas and oil, health care and manufacturing might need a CAIO, but they wouldn't be the norm.

"Companies don't need A.I. as much as they think they do," Andrews said. "No matter whether or not you really want A.I., your chief data officer is the best place to go to deliver A.I. to your organization."

JPL's Chien doesn't agree.

"I think some people just don't see how big A.I. is going to be," Chien said. "I think they're being responsive rather than visionary." Having a chief data officer, who would likely already have his or her hands full, take on artificial intelligence as well, could be a mistake, he said.


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