Thursday, February 22

The coolest job in corporate America? The executive responsible for AI

In September, the Mayo Clinic in Arizona created a first-of-its-kind position in the hospital system: chief artificial intelligence officer.

Doctors at the Arizona site, which has facilities in Phoenix and Scottsdale, had been experimenting with AI for years. But after the release of ChatGPT in 2022 and the resulting frenzy over the technology, the hospital decided it needed to work more with AI and find someone to coordinate the efforts.

So executives appointed Dr. Bhavik Patel, a radiologist specializing in artificial intelligence, to the new job. Dr Patel has since pioneered a new AI model that could help speed up the diagnosis of a rare heart disease by looking for hidden data in ultrasound.

“We’re really trying to drive some of these data and AI capabilities into every department, every division, every work group,” said Dr. Richard Gray, CEO of the Mayo Clinic in Arizona. The role of Chief AI Officer was created because “it helps to have a coordination function with in-depth skills”.

Many people have long feared that artificial intelligence would kill jobs. But the technology boom has instead pushed law firms, hospitals, insurance companies, government agencies and universities to create what has become the most important new role in corporate America and beyond: the senior executive responsible for artificial intelligence.

Credit bureau Equifax, manufacturer Ashley Furniture and law firms such as Eversheds Sutherland have appointed AI executives in the past year. In December, The New York Times named an editorial director of AI initiatives. And last year, more than 400 federal departments and agencies sought artificial intelligence leaders to comply with an executive order from President Biden that created safeguards for the technology.

In total, 122 people with the title of head or vice president of AI joined a forum on Glassdoor, the company’s review site, last year, up from 19 in 2022, Glassdoor said.

AI executive jobs are emerging because organizations want to take advantage of the transformative technology, said Randy Bean, the founder of consultancy NewVantage Partners, which advises companies on data and AI leadership. At the same time, he added, “organizations want to say, ‘Yes, we have an AI manager,’ because that makes them look good.”

Other executive jobs have been formed in response to major technological and financial changes. In the 1980s, advances in computing power led to a boom in chief information officers and chief technology officers, who typically oversee how technology is used within a company or develop it. After the 2008 financial crisis, chief data officers were appointed to comply with new regulations and manage how companies use data.

With AI executive roles, companies and organizations are looking for someone to help them manage the risks and potential of the technology and how it could change the way people work.

In May, health insurer Florida Blue promoted Svetlana Bender to the new position of vice president of artificial intelligence and behavioral sciences for this very purpose. One of her first AI projects was to pilot an internal chatbot that could help write computer code and analyze customer data.

Dr. Bender, who was previously Florida Blue’s director of technology solutions, said her team would train the chatbot on customer data and make it accessible to all employees. This month she hired an AI director to help her with the work

“We want to move as quickly as possible” in using the technology while making sure we keep customers’ insurance data safe, he said.

Accenture, a consultancy, added a chief AI officer in September as clients became increasingly interested in the technology. The company promoted Lan Guan, who worked on global data and artificial intelligence, to the role of advising clients on how to incorporate artificial intelligence into their businesses. Accenture is also developing artificial intelligence tools, including for the insurance industry.

The new work “underlines our ambition in the market and how optimistic we are about what we see as the huge potential for our customers in artificial intelligence,” Ms. Guan said.

At Western University in Ontario, Mark Daley, professor of computer science and chief information officer, took on the new position of chief AI officer in October. While still teaching, he has stepped down as chief information officer.

Since then, Dr. Daley has focused on creating more than 30 AI pilots, including working with the research and finance team to automate audit processes and collaborating with humanities faculty to develop new courses.

“We’re at a time where the best approach to generative AI is really exploration and experimentation,” he said.

Some experts have said that technology is changing so rapidly that it may soon overtake roles. A Harvard Business Review article last year, co-authored with NewVantage’s Mr. Bean, posited that AI and data managers were doomed to fail because the jobs were “a high-pressure balancing act with a technology that offers enormous risks and opportunities. “

Karin Kimbrough, chief economist at LinkedIn, said artificial intelligence will also evolve from a new technology to something integrated into everyone’s work. “AI will fill many roles and will be so entrenched that the AI-specific job title will start to disappear,” she said.

Some AI chief officers have said their work has staying power. Dr. Patel of the Mayo Clinic in Arizona said much of his new work involves communicating with other doctors and regulators such as the Food and Drug Administration and identifying how artificial intelligence can make medical work more efficient.

“Modern healthcare still has many gaps,” he said. “This is where I think we can intelligently use artificial intelligence to close this gap, or at least reduce it.”