Business leaders lack ethical insight needed to get the best out of AI

Although executives have high expectations for the impact that AI will have on their businesses according to Cognizant’s new report, ‘Making AI Responsible – and Effective, only half of companies have policies and procedures in place to identify and address the ethical considerations of its applications and implementations.  The study analyses the responses of almost 1,000 executives across the financial services, technology, healthcare, retail, manufacturing, insurance and media & entertainment industries in Europe and the US. The research suggests that business leaders are positive about the importance and potential benefits of AI. Roughly two- thirds (63  percent) say that AI is extremely or very important to their companies today, and 84  percent expect this will be the case three years from now. Lower costs, increased revenues and the ability to introduce new products or services, or to diversify were cited as the key advantages for the future.

Companies that are growing much faster than the average business in their industry, in particular, expect major benefits in coming years, with 86 percent of executives of these fast-growing companies claiming that AI is extremely or very important to their company’s success, compared with 57 percent of those at their competitors with slower growth. These industry leaders say they plan to use AI to drive further growth, solidifying their leading positions and pull even further away from the pack. This is reflected in their greater investment in key AI technologies, including computer vision (64 percent vs 47 percent), smart robotics/autonomous vehicles (63 percent vs 43 percent) and analysis of natural language (67 percent vs 42 percent).

Almost half of those companies (44 percent) undertaking at least one AI project expect to increase their employee headcount over the next three years as a result of the impact of AI projects. Retail and financial services industry executives were most likely to expect a boost to employment (56 percent and 49 percent respectively).


Disconnect between optimism and actual implementation

However, business leaders’ optimism is disconnected from the actual implementation in many companies. While two-thirds of executives said they knew about an AI project at their company, only 24 percent of that group – just 15 percent of all respondents – were aware of projects that were fully implemented.

Some 40 percent of respondents said that securing senior management commitment, buy-in by the business and even adequate budget were extremely or very challenging, indicating that many companies are not yet fully committed to AI’s central role in advancing business objectives.

Only half of companies have policies and procedures in place to identify and address ethical considerations – either in the initial design of AI applications or in their behaviour after the system is launched.

 The report provides three key recommendations to help companies take action and achieve the significant business benefits of AI:

  • Formulate AI strategies. These should focus on opportunities that promise measurable value – not only reduced costs and increased revenue, but also benefits such as improved customer service, entry to new lines of business and enhanced employee experiences. It is especially critical that strategies take a human-centric view of AI so that machines can work successfully alongside and for people.
  • Develop governance structures. Companies will need to work proactively to ensure that AI decision-making is transparent to those involved, that AI earns trust by avoiding errors and data-driven biases; and that AI is personalised and able to provide tailored, relevant and context-aware support as it interacts with humans.
  • Create and maintain responsible AI applications. Because of AI’s potential ubiquity and power, ethical concerns need to be interwoven into everything companies do with the technology. That means building AI systems ethically, and monitoring to ensure that those systems operate ethically over time, even as the AI applications learn and evolve. To be successful, companies will need to boost their ethics-related efforts upfront as AI touches more and more parts of business and society.