There is a danger that New Zealand businesses get left behind as these technologies completely change the way we work
New Zealand CEOs see the transformative power of AI but are not rushing to implement it.
Results of the PwC New Zealand’s 22nd annual CEO survey found majority of respondents - 84 per cent - believe AI will transform their businesses within the next five years.
This is similar to their global and Australian counterparts - and 67 per cent think it will have a larger impact on the world than the internet.
Yet, 30 per cent have no current plans to pursue any AI initiatives and 39 per cent said they have plans to implement it in the next three years.
No New Zealand CEOs indicated AI was already present on a wide scale in their organisations or see it as fundamental to their businesses, reports PwC.
In the survey, AI or artificial intelligence, is a collective term for computer systems that can sense their environment, think, learn, and take action in response. Forms of AI include digital assistants, chatbots, and machine learning.
PwC says the report is based on 1,378 interviews with CEOs in 91 countries including New Zealand between September and October 2018. The global survey was released last month at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
When it comes to the impact of AI on jobs, 46 per cent of New Zealand CEOs believe it will displace more jobs than it creates. CEOs are similarly pessimistic globally (49 per cent) and in Australia (47 per cent).
Given these concerns, PwC says it was not surprising a sizeable number (74 per cent combining ‘strongly agree’ and ‘agree’) of New Zealand CEOs think governments should develop a national strategy and policies for AI and the possible impact it might have on communities.
“I don’t buy into the hysteria that the robots are coming and they are going to steal our jobs,” says Greg Cross, co-founder and chief business officer at Soul Machines.
The reality is that the job market constantly evolves and the skills people need to find work change, says Cross, one of the NZ executives interviewed for the PwC report.
He cites that Soul Machines currently has just over 90 people in their offices in Auckland, Melbourne, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and London.
He says Soul Machines hired 40 people in the last 12 months.
“We expect to almost double in size over the next year and this will be driven by finding expertise in offshore markets – we are running out of the talent we need in New Zealand.”
He expresses concern, however, about the local technology industry.
“There is too much focus on commodity technology and services and not enough emphasis on deep science or research (‘with a capital R’),” Cross was quoted as saying in the PwC report.
An ostrich-like approach?
Cross points out one of his major concerns is that too many NZ CEOs “are taking an ostrich-like approach with AI and keeping their heads in the sand”.
“Adoption rates are way too slow here and it’s not something we take seriously enough,” says Cross.
He says the world is moving to the fourth industrial era where machines will become a bigger part of people’s lives.
“Within the next two to three years we will have the ability to produce high fidelity versions of ourselves. Our approach is that machines need to become more like us. By humanising technology in this way people will come to trust it more.
“We see the future as being about how machines can deliver services that companies don’t currently have the money to provide. Machines can deliver personalised customer experience and knowledge to everyone cost effectively.”
Commenting on the local implications of the global survey, Mark Averill, CEO and senior partner at PwC New Zealand, says, “There is a clear divide in CEOs’ belief in the ability of AI to change how we work and the level at which it’s being implemented.”
“There is a danger that New Zealand businesses get left behind as these technologies completely change the way we work.”
“The concern about AI’s impact on the workforce is understandable but I see it as more of an evolution than a revolution giving people the chance to upskill as we learn to work with new technology,” he concludes.
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