Why Artificial Intelligence Needs to be on Your Board’s Corporate Governance Agenda

Artificial Intelligence means many things at many levels. The most advanced form of Artificial Intelligence – or AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) – may not come to happen for a few years (or decades). However entrepreneurs, investors and board members need to be aware of what it is, what it could be, which changes it could bring about and what it could mean for their business.

At a more daily level, Artificial Intelligence is already part of our lives, and more specifically, of business.  Artificial Intelligence at its most basic level – or Artificial Narrow Intelligence as it is called (ANI) – is software which can process huge amounts of data (“big data”) based on a set of rules or instructions (“algorithms”) and turn it into meaningful information and problem solutions.

Artificial Intelligence is everywhere, most notably in smartphones and on a daily basis we interact with algorithmic based services such as Spotify, Amazon, Facebook, Netflix.

Some AI driven organizations like Facebook, Google (Alphabet), Amazon, IBM and Microsoft are investing greatly on AI development.  Algorithms drive their business.  However all other “traditional” industries are also being greatly impacted by AI: the automotive industry is facing a revolution with AI powered self driving cars (see my previous post Why Artificial Intelligence Will Need a Legal Personality), the retail supply chain is becoming increasingly efficient thanks to data and AI.

Not everyone is eager for AI to develop and although there are scientists (like Ray Kurzweil) eager to push the development of AI to the next level, some influential personalities in the field (notably Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk) have raised warnings about the need to thread carefully in the rush to develop and deploy AI.  Whatever your personal position on the matter, it is however undoubtedly true that all companies will adopt or continue to adopt increasingly sophisticated AI technologies at some level in the coming months or years to stay abreast of the market, be it to implement Industry 4.0 production and logistics solution or to meet their customers’ needs.

This is why boards of any industry cannot at this stage ignore the impact of Artificial Intelligence and what it means for their business, for their competitors’ business, what kind of opportunities it may bring and what kind of challenges and risks, and need to include a discussion about it in their corporate governance agenda.

What should a board be talking about when discussing Artificial Intelligence?

First of all, cybersecurity – which I have already discussed in a previous post (see Cybersecurity and board responsibilities). I will reiterate that data is one of the most valuable assets a company has – be it its customers’ data, its know how and IP, its historical records, data about its business operations and any kind of data that flows through the company’s servers.

Secondly, implementation of AI technology to the company’s core business – what kind of technology to purchase and what to use it for. This involves all industries (including the very traditional legal industry which is now being targeted with increasing demands to purchase expensive AI due diligence and disclosure technology).

Purchasing an AI based technology often involves processing and sharing data with the technology provider, and this again goes back to the point about cybersecurity and solid data infrastructure.

Finally, the need to update its language skills to understand the language of AI. I have discussed in a previous post (Self Aware Contracts) the language gap between traditional industries powered by natural language and the new developments brought about by AI powered enhancements which create the need for communication which was carried out in traditional language (eg, contracts) to be "translated" into machine language.

This means that developing those language skills, much like learning a second language, or bringing to the board table someone who has those language skills can and should be an important corporate governance priority for a company's board of directors.

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