Companies aren’t spending big on AI. Here’s why that cautious approach makes sense

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Generative AI has caught the attention of the general public, but that sense of excitement doesn’t mean executives believe it’s ready to deploy in business.

According to Nash Square’s annual report, only one in ten global technology leaders report large-scale implementation of AI Digital Leadership Reportwhich is the world’s largest and longest running annual survey of technology leaders.

What’s more, the hype surrounding generative AI has done little to spur further investment in artificial intelligence — Nash Square reports that the one in ten ratio of big spenders on AI hasn’t changed in five years.

Also: 4 ways to distinguish generative AI hype from reality

From the outside, it looks like AI has more bark than bite. While everyone is talking about generative AI and machine learning, very few companies are investing in large-scale AI implementations.

However, Bev White, CEO of digital transformation and recruitment specialist Nash Square, said in an interview with ZDNET that it’s important to put these headline figures in context.

Yes, some businesses are spending big on AI right now, but many organizations are beginning to investigate the emerging technology.

“What we’re seeing is actually quite an acceptance,” says White, who says the interest in AI is more in the research than the production phase.

Nearly half of companies (49%) are implementing or managing a small scale of AI, and a third are exploring generative AI.

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“And that’s exactly what we saw when the cloud really took off,” White said, comparing the initial migration to the cloud to the rise of AI a decade ago.

“It was, ‘Let’s dip our toe in the water, let’s figure out what all the implications are for policy, data, privacy and training,'” she says.

“Businesses were building their own use cases by doing small but meaningful pilots. That’s what happened last time, and I’m not surprised what’s happening again.”

In fact, White says the reluctance to spend big on AI makes a lot of sense for two key reasons.

First, many organizations are cash-strapped due to heavy investments in IT during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Digital leaders are trying to balance the books — they’re thinking ‘What’s going to give me the highest return on investment right now,'” he says.

“Short, careful, well-planned pilots — while you’re still doing some of the punchier digital transformation projects — will make a big difference to your organization.”

Also: As developers learn the ins and outs of generative AI, non-developers will follow.

Second, many emerging technologies — particularly generative AI — remain in an early stage of development. Each new iteration of a well-known large language model like OpenAI’s ChatGPT brings new developments and opportunities, but also risks, White said.

“You’re responsible as a CIO or CTO of a large enterprise. You want to be sure of what you’re doing with AI,” he says. “There’s so much risk that you have to think about your exposure — what do you need to protect the people who work for your business? What policies do you want to put in place?”

White talks about the importance of AI security and privacy, especially when it comes to the possibility of employees training models using someone else’s proprietary data, which could open the door to lawsuits.

“There’s a big risk that people can cut and paste,” he says “I’m not saying generative AI isn’t good. I’m really a fan. But I’m saying you have to be very consciously aware of the source of the data and the decisions you make behind that data.”

Also: Organizations Struggle for Ethical Adoption of AI. Here’s how you can help

Given these concerns about emerging technologies, it may seem odd that Nash Square reports that only 15% of digital leaders feel prepared for the demands of generative AI.

However, White says this lack of preparedness is understandable given the lack of clarity about both how to implement AI safely and securely today and the potential for sudden changes in the future.

“If you’re responsible for the safety, security, and reputation of using this technology inside your business, you better make sure you’ve thought everything through, and you also take your board with you and educate them. Way way way,” he said. says

“A lot of CEOs know they have AI somewhere in the mix, because it’s going to provide a competitive advantage, but they don’t know where yet. It’s really a discovery phase.”

White says the focus on exploration and investigation also helps explain why only 21% of organizations worldwide have an AI policy in place, and more than a third (36%) have no plans to create such a policy.

Also: The Ethics of Generative AI: How We Can Use This Powerful Technology

“How many innovative projects do you know that started by thinking about potential gates and points of failure?” she says.

‘Mostly you start, ‘Wow, where can I go with this?’ And then you can figure out what gates to close around you to protect and contain your project and data.”

However, while professionals may want to live up to their exploration of AI opportunities, the research – which surveyed more than 2,000 digital leaders worldwide – suggests that CIOs are not oblivious to the need for strong governance in this fast-moving area. the area

In most cases, digital leaders are looking for regulations to help their organizations investigate AI safely and securely.

Yet they also aren’t sure whether regulations for AI will come into play from industry or government agencies.

While 88% of digital leaders believe heavy AI regulation is essential, as many as 61% say strict regulation won’t solve all the problems and risks that come with emerging technologies.

Also: Worried about AI taking your job? Now start doing these 3 things

“You’re always going to need a straw man to push you back. And it’s good to have guidance from industry bodies and government that you can push against your own thinking,” says White. “But you don’t necessarily like it. If it’s carried through and put into law, all of a sudden you have to comply and find a way to keep within those guidelines. So, regulation can be a blessing and a curse. ”

Even if regulations are slow to emerge in the fast-moving area of ​​AI, White says that’s no excuse for complacency for companies looking to investigate the technology.

Digital leaders, especially security chiefs, should be thinking now about their own railroads for using AI within the enterprise.

And that’s something that’s happening within his own organization.

Also: If you don’t focus on this particular element, your AI tests will fail

“Our CISO is thinking about generative AI and how it can be a real gift to cybercriminals. It can open the door to innocently important, big chunks of data. It could mean accessing your secret sauce. You have to weigh the risks against the benefits. ,” she says.

With that balance in mind, White issues a warning to professionals — prepare for some high-profile AI incidents.

Just as a cybersecurity incident that affects some people can help expose the risk to many others, AI incidents — such as data leaks, hallucinations and lawsuits — will cause senior professionals to stop and reflect as they explore emerging technologies.

“As leaders, we need to be concerned, but we also need to be curious. We need to lean in and get involved, so we can see the opportunities that are out there,” he says.

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