AI adoption accelerates during COVID-19 pandemic; the US leads

The adoption of new Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies and further investment in existing AI technologies accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to RELX?s 2020 Emerging Tech Executive Report. The study also reveals that overall implementation of AI technologies across the business landscape increased for the third consecutive year.

COVID-19 Drove AI Technology Investment and Adoption

COVID-19 is the most pressing issue facing executives today as it reshapes and disrupts industries across the globe. The majority of respondents (68%) increased their investment in AI technologies during the COVID-19 pandemic with 48% investing in new AI technologies and 46% investing further in AI technologies already in use at their companies. Similarly, 63% of business leaders polled report that AI technologies had a positive impact on their business?s ability to stay resilient in the face of the pandemic.

For many respondents, the COVID-19 response effort underscored the importance of AI, with 77% agreeing that these technologies helped slow the spread of the virus and almost eight in ten (79%) responding that countries should share AI technology resources in light of the pandemic.

?Businesses? response to COVID-19 has confirmed the view of US business leaders that AI has the power to create smarter, more agile and profitable businesses,? said Vijay Raghavan, Executive Director of the Chief Technology Officer Forum at RELX. ?Businesses face more complex challenges every day and AI technologies have become a mission-critical resource in adapting to, if not overcoming, these types of unforeseen obstacles and staying resilient.?

The Use of AI has Increased Across Nearly all Sectors Polled

AI is transforming industries and changing competitive dynamics. Modern organizations are increasingly implementing AI technologies to uncover new efficiencies and inform business decisions.

While AI is now driving market reinvention, in 2018, less than half (48%) of business leaders responded that their companies used these technologies. The study shows that this number has reached 81%, up from 72% in 2019. The use of AI is viewed as a key competitive differentiator and 60% of those who say their company utilizes these technologies have increased their data scientist and technologist headcount to support these technologies while 60% say that they?ve increased the areas of their business touched by AI.

AI is a value-add for businesses, but there are hurdles that need to be cleared on the path to emerging technology adoption. The leading reasons for companies not using AI are budget constraints (44%) and lack of technical expertise (39%). More than half of all respondents agree that in order to increase investment in AI, data quality and availability needs to improve (57%), and there needs to be a better understanding of the legal and regulatory implications (53%) for adopting these technologies.

Ethical AI is a Priority and a Competitive Advantage

The rapid adoption and implementation of AI needs to be balanced with ethical considerations not only for greater social good, but also because it is a differentiator in a crowded landscape. Almost nine in ten (89%) business leaders believe that ethical standards in the development and use of emerging technologies lead to a competitive advantage for businesses. A similar number (86%) report that ethics considerations have been made a strategic priority in the design and implementation of their AI systems.

Only 5% of respondents believe that no regulations are needed for AI technologies. While this represents a small number of business leaders, there are differences in opinions as to how AI should be regulated. Most (68%) business leaders believe emerging technologies should be regulated at a national level, while 60% believe they should be regulated at an international level and 45% believe they should be regulated at a state level.

International Competition Remains a Concern for US Businesses

The study shows a clear perceived link between technological supremacy and economic growth. While the vast majority (90%) of business leaders see the US as the leader in AI, up 10 percentage points from the year prior, 82% say that they are concerned with the possibility of other countries surpassing the US in terms of AI technology development and implementation. This sentiment has increased every year since the survey began in 2018, reflecting an ongoing concern that foreign competitors could overtake US businesses.

Among business leaders who share these concerns, half (50%) state that their business would be negatively impacted if other countries passed the US in AI expertise. Respondents believe the keys to promoting AI development and implementation domestically are rolling out programs to help employees stay competitive as AI becomes further ingrained in the business world (59%), increasing research and development funding (58%) and providing training opportunities for employees (58%). Training is on the rise, as 75% of companies offer training on AI technologies, up from 62% in 2019 and 46% in 2018.

?A trend we?ve seen over the last three years is that AI implementation consistently outpaces training,? said Raghavan. ?Companies that do not dedicate the necessary resources to training existing employees on new AI technologies risk leaving growth opportunities on the table and using biased or otherwise flawed systems to make and enforce major decisions.?

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