Emerging players challenge leadership of U.S., China in artificial intelligence innovations

Despite its strong history of innovation, the US is facing competition from emerging players across the globe when it comes to artificial intelligence (AI).

China is not the only contender—which is seen as leading the race in AI adoption in a recent EY poll (32%) with the U.S. (40%). The EY poll received responses from 126 senior AI professionals.

In July 2017, the Chinese State Council announced the country’s goal of becoming a global innovation center in AI by 2030. China has also announced a US$2.1 billion investment to build a technology park in Beijing dedicated to AI development.

Other countries—with data becoming more readily accessible and governments worldwide taking an active role in investing in innovation—are catching up in the AI space, EY said.

“While the US and China continue to lead in AI technology, we see considerable strides being made by other countries,” said Jeff Wong, EY Global Chief Innovation Officer. “With high-growth start-up scenes in Israel and Japan and a recognized academic community in the UK, the true factor for success will lie in access to quality data and governments prioritizing innovation.”

The countries that will ultimately break out of the pack will be those that focus on finding ways to unlock data and take full advantage of the access and forward-thinking insight it provides, he added.

2018 could be a breakthrough year for more widespread AI adoption

While technologies like blockchain will see a continued increase in application, AI will take the lead among transformative technologies for enterprises in the next year, EY noted.

In fact, 39% of senior AI professionals surveyed believe that machine learning will see the most growth among innovative technologies in 2018.

As leaders increasingly collaborate with technologists to achieve comprehensive integration into their business’ value chain, companies like airlines and hotels will leverage customer data and AI to improve customer experience.

“2018 could be a breakthrough year for more widespread AI adoption,” said Chris Mazzei, Global Chief Data & Analytics Officer. “There is a particular opportunity with regards to robotic process automation (RPA) software: by combining the intelligence of AI with the operational efficiencies RPA offers, this software can be transformed into a value-generating component of business toolkits, applicable across multiple business functions.

This increase in AI adoption will also lead to a rise in other newer technologies leveraging intelligent automation at their core: namely, chatbots will replace intranets, offering a much more intuitive and efficient way to access information within organizations, he added

How to break the barriers to success

With many senior AI professionals attributing stakeholder buy-in (43%) and lack of AI talent (57%) as the greatest barriers to adopting AI technology according to the poll, successful CEOs and boards will need to take long-term steps to overhaul their current mindsets to attract future talent and remain innovative, EY advised.

The C-suite must also examine their composition to incorporate diverse perspectives that can contribute to the company’s forward success, EY noted.

With 82% of investors believing that composition should be a board priority, according to the EY Center for Board Matters, there is merit to integrating diverse perspectives to enhance issue identification and problem-solving ability while impeding “group think”, EY observed.

Diversity matters

Boards without age, gender, nationality and skillset diversity will fail to lead companies effectively in the new era of technology, EY warned.

“Innovation involves an investment in people as well as technology,” Wong said. “Having a board and C-suite that embodies a global mindset, putting diversity in all its forms at its forefront will be essential in moving the needle across businesses.”