Gartner’s annual Symposium event in Barcelona kicked off with an upbeat keynote message, exploring the huge opportunities artificial intelligence (AI) has opened up for chief information officers (CIOs) and IT leaders. However, Gartner found that 38% of CIOs do not have an AI vision statement, and only 4% say their data is ready.
Gabriela Vogel, senior director analyst, Gartner, said: “AI is embedded in everything we do. The last time that happened was 16 years ago, with the iPhone.” Prior to the iPhone, the invention of the world wide web powered significant change in technology.
Unlike the web and the smartphone, AI represents more than a technology shift. Mary Mesaglio, distinguished vice-president of the Digital Futures group on Gartner’s CIO research team, said: “AI is not just a technology trend. CIOs need to widen their lens on how they look at this and start with human-machine relationships.”
She said people have completely got the wrong idea of where AI systems fit alongside society. People often assume AI cannot show empathy, but for some people, an AI offers digital disinhibition, where people who are afraid to talk to a human therapist feel more confident talking to an AI.
One example Mesaglio spoke about is Xaoice, a female Manga character, originally developed by Microsoft using an emotional computing framework to engage with humans. She has 640 million users, and many treat her as a friend. In one instance, Mesaglio said someone credited her for saving his life when he was contemplating suicide.
Gartner said AI will cause a profound shift in how humans and machines interact. “Machines have got a lot more complex,” said Vogel. “Up to now, we had to learn the language of the machine. They are now teammates.”
AI is at the top of the Gartner hype cycle, and the analyst has categorised two distinct applications of AI technology. The first, to use Gartner terminology, is everyday AI. Software such as Copilots in Microsoft Office tackle productivity and efficiency, and Mesaglio said this type of AI is designed to speed up what businesses already do.
The second application area is what Gartner deems “game-changer” AI, where the technology is used to build entirely new products and services, such as where a pharma company deploys AI to accelerate drug discovery. According to Mesaglio and Vogel, these AI game-changer application areas are open to any business, not matter its size, and have the potential to disrupt entire industries.
However, in spite of the huge business growth potential of such technology, many CIOs are more likely to focus on everyday AI. Such technology generally does not require huge investment as it tends to be part of off-the-shelf products and services. According to Gartner, 75% of CIOs expect to do everyday AI due to the lower risk associated with deploying AI technology this way. However, as Mesaglio notes, the rewards are also lower and the business is unable to gain a sustainable advantage.
To achieve significant business benefits, CIOs will need a strategy that includes game-changer AI initiatives. These, however, often involve significant up-front investment and a long return on that investment.