AI Commands Spotlight at 2018 World Economic Forum

January 29, 2018

Contributor: Jill Beadle

Peter Sondergaard discusses why artificial intelligence is a source of urgency for the worlds greatest minds and leaders.

Artificial intelligence (AI) continues to dominate headlines and discussions on the future of tech and digital business. Organizations of all sizes and industries grapple with separating hype from reality and knowing when to adopt and invest in AI technologies.

This year’s World Economic Forum (WEF) 2018 was no different. AI was at the center of panels, breakout sessions and hallway conversations. Gartner’s Peter Sondergaard, EVP and global head of research at Gartner, attended the forum and shared with us the technology-related headlines and why AI is top of mind for so many world leaders.  

Will AI eliminate jobs from the labor force en masse?

The press has been rifled with a job replacement scenario, but that’s far from the truth. We recognize that some jobs will be lost, but AI is intended to augment human capabilities. It increases our productivity, and helps us perform our jobs more quickly and with more accuracy. That’s true for all job types — not just those deemed blue collar, but knowledge workers as well.

“ AI will spur job creation. In 2020, it will create 2.3 million jobs”

Many of my conversations in Davos revolved around this topic, as leaders of organizations want to know what the human impact of technology will be, especially for tech as disruptive as AI. The good news is that AI will spur job creation. In 2020, it will create 2.3 million jobs, while eliminating 1.8 million. That’s a net growth of half a million new positions.

What type of skill and experience will those new positions require?

It’s important to remember that the future of work is one in which human beings will remain at the center of that work. However, what we do and how we do it will significantly change. This calls for technical knowledge in specific AI technologies and expertise in areas such as data science and data quality maintenance. When 10 years from now, two out of three jobs will be classified as nonroutine, people will be required to do more thinking and less doing.

In some instances, sourcing this talent will require retraining existing employees — a responsibility that lies with both CIOs and heads of HR. Together, they must both create and own a clear strategy for building and retraining the necessary talent. Consider the job of AI engineers. Once coding becomes an automated task, they will need to upskill in order to effectively apply their skills and experience to new roles and challenges.

How can organizations prepare to take advantage of AI?

This was a running theme throughout the 2018 WEF. Although AI continues to garner interest from leaders across all industries and geographies, the technology is still in its infancy. In fact, few organizations have implemented wide-scale AI projects. However, many CIOs are considering taking on an AI pilot or have one underway.

To gain the most from AI, apply the tech to key business priorities

Those hesitant about, yet interested in, pursuing an AI initiative can look to AI pioneers. They’ve forged a path of adoption, making mistakes along the way that we can learn from. These early adopters offer valuable insights for CIOs about to begin their AI journey:

  • To gain the most from AI, apply the tech to key business priorities.
  • Move beyond the common definition of AI as automation or you will easily miss hidden opportunities.
  • Aim for soft outcomes such as improvements to processes, customer satisfaction, products and financial benchmarking.

Is there anything we should be wary of when it comes to AI?

We should not be wary, but should be aware, of AI’s limitations — namely, data bias. This sparked many interesting and spirited conversations among WEF leaders. As we discussed what AI could and could not do, it quickly became clear that we needed to tackle biases that might be inherent in the data input. Our data is only as good or accurate as its programmers, interpreters and users. If those groups do not represent the diversity of the population at large, it is highly probable that the data won’t, either, and that society’s human biases will spill into current and future technologies.

“ Technology should be for the benefit of all, not some”

How to curtail or prevent such bias brings us to the importance of diversity and inclusion in technology. This is clearly linked to AI, as AI will increase the demand for learning new technologies and ways of working in a diverse workforce.

In the Davos discussions, attendees sought to ensure that those technologies are used to enhance, not limit, diversity and inclusion. Some looked to education to do so by increasing the participation of women and other marginalized groups in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Others debated whether businesses or governments had a role to play.

As technology should be for the benefit of all, not some, we must tackle its challenges head on. And the responsibility rests with each of us.

Experience Information Technology conferences

Join your peers for the unveiling of the latest insights at Gartner conferences.