SA execs recognise AI potential

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More than 50% of South African CEOs believe AI will be bigger than the Internet.
More than 50% of South African CEOs believe AI will be bigger than the Internet.

Although they have no current plans to pursue artificial intelligence (AI), 90% of South African CEOs believe it will significantly change the way they do business in the next five years.

This is according to findings in the latest PwC Global CEO Survey, which was launched by the firm's global CEO, Bob Moritz, at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos yesterday.

The survey conducted in September and October 2018, is based on 1 378 interviews with CEOs from 91 countries across the globe. In SA, 55 interviews were conducted with CEOs, which have also been included in the global survey.

According to Dion Shango, CEO of PwC Southern Africa, this year's survey focused on data and analytics and AI, which are the two key areas on leaders' radars.

Unpacking the survey results at media briefing this morning, Shango said 60% of the CEOs believe AI will be bigger than the Internet. "To help unlock internal growth potential in their organisations, chief executives are paying close attention to emerging digital technologies such as AI."

According to PwC estimates, almost $15.7 trillion in global gross domestic product gains is expected from AI by 2030.

Despite the hype and expectation, nearly two-thirds of CEOs have not yet initiated AI programmes in their organisations, notes the survey. Another third have only dipped a toe into AI for 'limited uses'.

The PwC survey reveals that 28% of South African executives are taking "a wait-and-see" approach to AI initiatives. Globally this number stands at 23%.

In terms of the impact AI will have on jobs, 55% of SA's CEOs believe that AI will displace more jobs than it creates.

CEOs in Western Europe and North America are less doubtful, with 38% and 41% respectively believing AI will displace more jobs than it creates, Shango pointed out.

Shango explained that it could be that the information and talent gaps are also a critical barrier to successfully exploiting the promise of AI.

"The skills gap holding back AI is not only a matter of hiring AI specialists and data scientists. AI can only succeed if the whole workforce is prepared to use AI-based systems."

When it comes to closing the skills gap in their respective organisations, CEOs agree that there is no quick fix.

However, CEOs suggested retraining and establishing a strong pipeline as favoured approaches to bridge the skills.

"Forty-six percent globally, compared to 38% of South African CEOs, see significant retraining and upskilling as the answer, with 17% globally and 20% in SA also citing establishing a strong pipeline directly from education as an option."

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