Executive summary

Science fiction has conditioned us to think of artificial intelligence (AI) as an anthropomorphic superbeing, intent on wiping out our jobs (or, gulp, us). But a post-Singularity future with super AI-based “Terminators” running amok is a mirage. AI is, more accurately, a tool – an incredibly powerful tool – with the potential to take organizations and individuals to new thresholds of performance in whatever activity they’re engaged.

Because AI has diffused into so many aspects of our lives and work so seamlessly, it is easy – as the proverbial frogs in boiling water – to overlook how significant it will be for the rest of our working lives.

In our new Work Ahead research series, however, executives appear to grasp that something big is going on. When asked to rank the importance of a wide variety of technologies and trends to the future of their work over the next three years, respondents rated AI as second only to hyperconnectivity. And, as a consequence, a very large portion of businesses – 70% – are implementing and trialing AI in some form or other, within their businesses right now.

(See Methodology for full details on the Work Ahead research series.)

While AI ultimately offers incredible utility, its benefits can be challenging to achieve, and ROI doesn’t happen overnight. To make it a gamechanger and generate value, businesses must have the right data, strategy, applications, skills and use cases, and they must focus on real business objectives and problems to solve.

Other hurdles include managing risks and ethics, and embedding AI into day-to-day workflows so people can work together with these new tools, intimately, iteratively and inextricably. All of these challenges are non-trivial. In sum, they present the work ahead.