The only thing every board member asks

“Nose in, fingers out.” This is the rule, so to speak, for corporate boards. Board members already have a long list of mission-critical issues, including risk and reputation management, advising and encouraging the CEO, financial performance and growth opportunities. Of course, no one expects them to get involved in the intricacies of technical operations.

The question is, “Why should we discuss artificial intelligence?”

This is what I usually hear when I encourage board members to put AI on the agenda. But while the question remains the same, the reasons for the embarrassment of the board members are different – and this speaks volumes about the misconceptions about what is coming down the proverbial trumpet.

“Our plates are already full,” some say. “How is that a priority now?”

“We are not a technology company,” others said. “AI is not a board-level issue.”

“We already have so many digital disruptions to deal with,” others say. “Why is AI more important than all other technological issues?”

I sit and smile because they are right, in a conventional business context. But what happens – and will happen – as a result of AI is anything but conventional.

AI is an existential threat in any industry

Artificial intelligence is a problem at the board level due to its unique ability for exponential interference. It will shake the global business and consumer landscape more deeply and dramatically than any previous technology in the history of technology. I say it without hyperbole.

Therefore: AI gets better every day with little or no human interaction. But not just gradually – once a goal is set and fed with enough data, well-developed AI runs in a continuous feedback loop that improves results exponentially. With each new level of accuracy and achievement, AI increases productivity even more, while the momentum of improvement is unstoppable. Once a player achieves this flywheel effect, it will be impossible for competitors to catch up. This is what I call the “Winner Takes Everything” paradigm.

The healthcare industry provides many ready-made examples. In radiology, for example, artificial intelligence is already seeing signs of serious health problems such as cancer that people cannot identify, even ex post facto. These AI diagnostic systems are learning from live data from millions of scans, getting better and better, until soon one day AI will almost certainly make radiological diagnosis only for people obsolete. In the same way, AI drastically reduces the time and cost of developing new drugs and vaccines, as we saw with COVID-19. What once took a decade or more, and sometimes billions of dollars, can now sometimes take less than a year and a fraction of the price, thanks to AI. Pharmaceutical companies that are lagging behind in the AI ​​race will simply be gone in ten years.

But it is not only health care that will be affected by AI. Retail, transportation, finance, insurance and almost every other industry are ready to grab in a way we have simply never seen before. This makes artificial intelligence both the biggest competitive responsibility and the most important growth opportunity facing most companies today.

The AI ​​revolution is already underway

Okay, so artificial intelligence is an issue at the board level, even for organizations that are not considered technology companies. But do boards really need to worry about this urgently and immediately?

The answer is right in front of you.

AI is already in the products and ads you see online. It is in the entertainment content that you consume. AI works hard to determine which stocks, bonds and commodities are being bought and sold and protects you from cyber threats. In ways that are really hard for most of us to even imagine, AI is already changing who you are and how you and your customers think.

Frankly, if you are a board member who believes that AI is not a board-level problem, you are probably indebted to the company.

Here’s how boards can handle AI

There are three things boards can do today to take on this important challenge effectively:

Stimulate AI strategy and action from above

Just as boards are responsible for monitoring other risks and opportunities facing their companies, they must also begin to see themselves as drivers of the AI ​​strategy. Make sure you have a clear and bold strategy as well as AI champions within the board. Learn what is already happening in your industry and tell the CEO that AI is the 800-pound gorilla in the room.

Start managing AI now

The road to AI success is fraught with responsibilities ranging from built-in biases to unimaginable consequences. This is new, it is complex and there may be unforeseen economic, political, social and environmental results. Boards should view AI management as part of their responsibility for reputation management, as well as ESG initiatives. Now is the time to start defining your definition of responsible AI and implementing your standards to guide the ethical, transparent and fair use of AI.

Don’t be afraid to ask

Most board members know how to write AI and not much more. That’s all right, the AI ​​revolution is very young and it may take some time to catch up with those who may not be “that young”. Start learning. There was a time when the Internet, social media, and smartphone technology also seemed inaccessible. Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance. Better informed board members become better advisers.

Not only is artificial intelligence within the scope of the board, I would say that it should be one of the most important and urgent priorities on board. AI is a matter of strategy, vision, capabilities and risk management, not a ‘techarium’. My advice to the board members? Get your noses into artificial intelligence as soon as possible.

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