Digital transformation, particularly over the past year, has led to widespread adoption of AI by US businesses. Despite these encouraging moves, as AI becomes more prevalent, American business leaders are facing a number of challenges preventing them from optimising these technologies to grow their businesses, according to a study released by RELX, a global provider of information-based analytics and decision tools for professional and business customers.
The 2021 RELX Emerging Tech Executive Report marks the fourth edition of the survey and provides a four-year analysis of AI trends across eight industries in the US.
The survey found that more than four out of five (81%) senior executives polled responded that their business uses AI, up from just 48% in 2018, and 93% report that AI makes their business more competitive.
It also shows how the pandemic influenced AI adoption, as 60% of business leaders believe AI technologies made their business more resilient to the impact of Covid-19 and 48% invested in new AI technologies because of the pandemic, the same number who reported doing so in 2020.
Hiring talent using AI
Over 4 million Americans quit their jobs in July 2021 alone, contributing to a talent shortage preventing US companies from maximising their AI capabilities. In turn, both hiring and retaining AI technologists are a barrier for US businesses. Overall, 95% of respondents see hiring and retaining AI talent as a challenge.
Workforce development has put a strain on companies already low on resources. In fact, 39% of respondents who said AI has a negative impact on their industry stated it is because it requires more training or upskilling of workers.
“Companies have scaled up their AI capabilities and are hiring more technologists who are AI-savvy. At the same time American workers are reconsidering the role that work plays in their lives. This has created a tension that intensified the battle for talent in the tech industry,” said Vijay Raghavan, RELX Technology Forum Director. “An unfortunate side effect is that some companies are hesitant to invest in upskilling their employees on the basis that they’re liable to be lured away after a year or two by a rival company, a hesitancy which ultimately results in less effective AI systems.”
Using ethical AI
90% senior executives believe ethical standards in the development and use of emerging technologies can represent a competitive advantage for businesses. Yet about two-thirds (64%) of senior executives have identified existing bias in AI technologies used by their company. An even higher percentage (75%) responded that the implementation of AI technologies impacts the risk of bias in the workplace.
“As more companies use AI to power their operations, they’re realising that eliminating unfair bias, and producing ethical AI isn’t a simple task. The term ‘bias’ deserves deeper examination. For example, since there is real-world bias within people, practices, systems etc., collecting data faithfully will likely replicate real-world bias, and so the notion of eliminating bias is not a cut and dried issue. The topic requires significant debate within each company on what is fair and unfair, what is transparent and explainable and what requires human oversight,” said Raghavan.
Has regulation hindered the adoption of AI?
The percent of senior executives who believe national regulations are needed has dropped significantly from 68% in 2020 to about half (52%) in 2021. The share of those who believe state regulations are needed also saw a drop from 2020 (33% in 2021 compared with 45% in 2020). In line with these findings, only 62% of companies are very confident they can comply with AI regulations without further investments being made.
Nine out of ten senior executives (90%) believe the US is the world leader in AI development and implementation but 81% are concerned with other countries being more advanced in this area, most because they worry it will negatively impact their business.