CEOs voice concerns over GenAI pitfalls

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 19 Jan 2024
CEOs expect generative artificial intelligence to improve the quality of their products or services.
CEOs expect generative artificial intelligence to improve the quality of their products or services.

While majority of global CEOs expect generative artificial intelligence (AI) to significantly enhance business efficiency and productivity, they are also concerned about the pitfalls of the emerging tech.

This is according to PwC’s 27th Annual Global CEO Survey, which interviewed 4 702 CEOs across industries in 105 countries, including South Africa.

The survey found that 38% of CEOs are optimistic about global economic growth prospects over the next 12-months, up from 18% in 2023.

However, almost half of them do not believe their businesses will be viable in a decade, as emerging technologies and climate pressures accelerate.

As the pressure to adapt rises, PwC says more CEOs are prioritise big moves to support business model reinvention.

In pursuit of reinventing their businesses, it adds, top companies are increasingly focusing, not only on their business model, but also on the technology models that enable it – including generative AI adoption and strategic integration.

According to the PwC research, 51% of respondents have integrated generative AI across their business operations. While 70% of respondents expect generative AI to significantly change the way their company creates value in the next three years, they also expressed concerns around the unintended consequences of the emerging technology.

“CEOs overwhelmingly see generative AI as a catalyst for reinvention that will power efficiency, innovation, and transformational change,” explains Dion Shango, PwC Africa CEO.

“But while CEOs are increasingly looking to the transformative benefits of generative AI, the great majority say it will require workforce upskilling (69%). They have also expressed concern about an associated rise in cyber security risk (64%), misinformation (52%), legal liabilities and reputation risks (46%), and bias towards specific groups of customers or employees (34%) in their companies.”

According to PwC, even as the momentum of generative AI surges, a range of experts in the field are voicing concerns over the potentially significant negative consequences that could emerge as its reach grows.

CEOs reflected similar sentiments in their responses to the survey. One-third of CEOs also expect generative AI to increase bias towards specific groups of employees or customers in the next 12 months.

“Interestingly, familiarity with generative AI does not seem to mitigate concerns about the risks among CEOs whose companies have already broadly adopted it,” adds Shango.

“Taken together, these findings underscore the societal obligation that CEOs have, for ensuring their organisations use AI responsibly.”

This week, United Nations secretary-general, António Guterres, warned of the “existential threats” posed by the reckless use of AI by tech companies in pursuit of profits, speaking at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos this week.

Dion Shango, PwC Africa CEO.
Dion Shango, PwC Africa CEO.

AI opportunity

CEOs are also optimistic about the short-term impact of generative AI, according to the report.

Over the next 12 months, almost three-fifths (58%) expect it to improve the quality of their products or services and almost half (48%) say it will enhance their ability to build trust with stakeholders.

They also expect better outcomes for their business – 41% expect it to positively impact revenue and 46% expect it to positively impact profitability. The technology, media and communications sector is most positive about the impact on profit (54%), while energy, utilities and resources are least optimistic (36%).

“Overall, CEOs anticipate many positive near-term business impacts from generative AI. These include applications that increase revenues, such as through improved product quality and customer trust, as well as those that boost efficiency. This trend is consistent with PwC’s Global Risk Survey 2023, which found that 60% of respondents see generative AI as mostly or fully an opportunity rather than a risk.”

Some of those efficiency benefits appear likely to come via employee headcount reduction – at least in the short term – with one-quarter of CEOs expecting to reduce headcount by at least 5% in 2024 due to generative AI, notes the study.

Companies making early reductions to capture efficiencies in some areas may already be offsetting them with hiring in others, as growth and revenue opportunities become clearer, it says.

“These findings drive home the need for CEOs to bring their people along when it comes to generative AI. Being transparent, purpose-driven, and trusted regarding AI-related plans and decisions can help employees who are concerned about the impact of AI on their jobs will feel more comfortable experimenting – and innovating – with it.”