Artificial intelligence (AI) is moving from the realm of science fiction to real world adoption among private and public sector organisations globally. Today AI is used by financial services companies to serve customers better and detect fraud; by healthcare providers to more accurately diagnose illness and identify more effective treatments; by manufacturers to keep machines up and running on the plant floor and to streamline supply chains; and by city authorities to track and mitigate urban challenges such as traffic, pollution and crime.
As AI becomes increasingly embedded in society, it will not only change the businesses that adopt it but also have significant economic, social and civic effects on citizens and consumers. In short, national and regional economies will become more intelligent in the ways they produce and distribute goods and services. But such transformations will also introduce new challenges. Indeed, policymakers, economists and technology stakeholders are observing these changes closely, often with commitments to protecting the rights of workers whose jobs may be replaced by automation.
Moreover, the adoption of AI is happening at a different pace from nation to nation and from region to region. Access and implementation of AI in different markets, in both advanced and emerging economies, will be determined by those countries’ access to resources, capacity for innovation and the readiness of business and citizens to embrace the technology, as shown in this Economist Intelligence Unit report, sponsored by Microsoft.
The research is based on a survey of more than 400 business executives at organisations in eight key markets: France, Germany, Mexico, Poland, South Africa, Thailand, the UK and the US. Its aim is to help senior business and public-sector leaders understand the significant social potential of AI across industries and countries, with special attention devoted to the differences between advanced and emerging markets.
In particular, Intelligent economies explores to what extent corporate and government decision-makers believe AI will help meet their toughest challenges, including growth, productivity, innovation and job creation.
Respondents are optimistic about the economic benefits that AI will bring. Over the next five years, survey respondents expect AI to have a positive impact on growth (90%), productivity (86%), innovation (84%) and job creation (69%) in their country and industry.
Both private- and public-sector organisations consider AI essential to business strategy. More than nine out of ten respondents (94%) describe AI as important to solving their organisations’ strategic challenges, with 57% saying that it is “somewhat” important and a further 37% characterising it as “very” important.
The race to adopt and implement AI in business processes has already begun. More than one in four respondents (27%) say their organisations have already incorporated the technology into key processes and services, while another 46% have one or more AI pilot projects under way.
Despite their optimism, businessess recognise several major obstacles to leveraging AI successfully. When asked what major risks they see when adopting or increasing the use of AI, cost or financial risk tops the list, cited by 42% of respondents. Next is execution risk, with 36% saying their organisation may not have the necessary resources, in terms of people or tools, to effectively implement AI. Following closely behind are the workforce challenges involved in persuading employees to adopt new technology or learn new skills (35%) and security (32%).