Early AI adopters report big returns

New study shows artificial intelligence technology is paying off, but organizations face challenges.

Enthusiasm for artificial intelligence (AI) is high among organizations, with early adopters reporting substantial returns and planning to invest in more projects, according to a new report from consulting firm Deloitte Consulting LLP.

The second edition of the firm's State of AI in the Enterprise report also shows that organizations "may want to tap the brakes, if only to more skillfully navigate the inevitable twists and turns that lie ahead."

For its research, Deloitte surveyed 1,100 US executives from companies considered to be early AI adopters, and found that 82 percent report a positive return on their investment. The median return was 17 percent.

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Some industries are more adept than others at making AI investments pay off. For example, technology, media and entertainment, and telecommunications companies are estimated to have a median return on investment (ROI) of 20 percent from their AI initiatives.

AI technology penetration is pervasive and growing among early adopters, the report said, with the most complex technologies having the highest adoption levels. That includes machine learning (63 percent), natural language processing (62 percent), computer vision (57 percent), and deep learning neural networks (50 percent).

Advanced enterprise software is making it easier for organizations to get started and benefit from AI, with 59 percent of the enterprises surveyed using enterprise software in combination with AI.

Many of the complex challenges businesses need to solve today require humans working with machines, said David Rudini, principal and chief analytics officer at Deloitte. To achieve true ROI from AI investments requires defining specific business outcomes and understanding the costs, cascading impacts, and talent implications at the onset, Rudini said.

Survey respondents have a number of concerns with AI technologies, and cyber security vulnerability tops the list. About one third of the respondents said their organization has experienced an AI-related breach within the last two years. Slightly fewer (30 percent) said they have slowed an AI initiative in order to address cyber security concerns, and one in five have decided not to launch AI initiatives because of cyber security concerns.

Nearly 40 percent of the respondents said they have a high concern about the legal and regulatory risks associated with AI, and 32 percent said ethical risks are another top concern. Ethical risks include the power of AI to spread false information, and the possibility of bias in AI algorithms that can skew recommendations in areas such as lending or career recruitment.

Also: AI means a lifetime of training CNET

Another challenge is addressing the AI talent gap. A majority of companies said they are facing a "moderate, major, or extreme" skills gap in AI.

Despite the concerns, organizations can't afford to be idle and watch competitors gain an advantage through AI, the report said. Nearly two-thirds of the organizations (63 percent) are using AI to catch up, keep up, or edge slightly ahead of competitors, while 37 percent are using AI to notably widen their lead in their markets.

At the same time, organizations understand that AI use is still maturing. Although 42 percent of respondents think adopting AI will be of "critical strategic importance" two years from now, only 11 percent think that's the case today.

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