What is AI and what do boards and senior leaders need to know about it?

The evening of Thursday 9 May saw the launch of CGIUKI’s AI Series. Attendees gathered at Saffron House to hear Professor Ashley Braganza, Dean of Brunel Business School, Chris Burt, co-founder and Chair of the Risk Coalition, and Clare Wardle, General Counsel and Company Secretary of Coca-Cola Europacific Partners discuss the topic of the moment – artificial intelligence.

What is AI?

When it comes to AI, there is a lot of jargon, and it’s not necessarily clear that everyone is using the terminology in the same way. In the absence of a formal definition of AI technology as a whole, it can be useful to characterise it as follows:

AI is adaptive – meaning that it is difficult to explain the logic or intent of the system’s outcomes. The outputs of AI, which are based on the system independently learning from training data, are not necessarily easily predictable by human developers.

AI is autonomous − meaning that systems make decisions without the express control of humans.

These two characteristics can mean that AI systems feel a bit like a black box, where information goes in and outputs come out, but we’re not quite sure what happens in the middle.

It is worth bearing in mind that AI is a broad term which is often used interchangeably with generative AI, however, the two terms do not mean the same thing. Generative AI is a subset of AI which creates new content – text, images, code − based on the data on which it has been trained.

What do boards and senior leadership need to know about AI?

It is well understood that AI comes with both risks and opportunities. While AI has managed to solve a decades-old protein-folding puzzle and is accelerating the discovery of new medicines, it has also seen the DPD chatbot swear at customers resulting in a media frenzy and significant reputational damage.

Understandably, boards and senior management are keen to harness this new tool without falling foul of potential pitfalls. Thursday’s expert panellists provided actionable advice to help organisations to get started on their AI journey.

  • AI is a tool. Identify the problems that you want to solve before deciding if AI is the solution you need.
  • Never enter confidential or commercially sensitive data into a free AI tool – the algorithms learn from the queries entered into them and may subsequently use your data to provide answers to other users.
  • Don’t be afraid to use AI to assist with tasks such as research and report writing, but do review the results with scepticism. AI is known to ‘hallucinate’ facts so any output will require careful sense-checking by a skilled and knowledgeable person.
  • Be mindful of AI tools being added to existing IT systems without you noticing. Some software updates could introduce AI elements without this being made explicit. To regulate internal use of AI effectively, it’s important to understand where it is already in place within your systems and to define the scope for how it will be used whenever it is introduced.
  • AI will impact jobs at every level, but it will also enhance how we work and create new jobs. It is important to upskill yourself and your board to take full advantage of the available tools.
  • AI outputs are based on past data which can limit effectiveness when it comes to making decisions about the future. There is still value in the human input and understanding of the current ‘temperature’ around issues − the zeitgeist.
  • Organisations need to have an AI policy, a good starting point could be to identify what you will use AI for, and what you will not.
  • AI is a rapidly evolving technology, so it’s likely that any policy or internal regulation will need to be reviewed regularly to ensure that it remains relevant.

For those who missed the opening session, there will be plenty more opportunities to build your knowledge of AI over the coming months as our AI Series continues. The next session, on 4 June, will be a webinar session looking at AI in strategy and leadership. Delegates will come away with the ability to:

  • recognise AI’s effects on strategic planning and governance
  • appreciate how AI can provide insights into risk management
  • value ethical leadership approaches in data driven contexts.

Find out more about the whole AI Series and book your place.

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