Seeking AI skills
Tech giants spent as much as $30 billion on artificial intelligence in 2016, while financing also spiked rapidly to between $6 billion and $9 billion, according to McKinsey estimates, but AI adoption outside the tech sector remains at an early, often experimental stage, with few firms having deployed it at scale.
However, McKinsey believes evidence suggests that there is a business case to be made, and that AI can deliver real value. In its global executive survey, it found that early adopters combining strong digital capability with proactive strategies have higher profit margins, while also expecting the performance gap with other firms to widen in the next three years.
What is the large corporate investment in AI focused on? “Amazon is working on robotics and speech recognition, Salesforce on virtual agents and machine learning,” reports McKinsey. “BMW, Tesla, and Toyota are among the manufacturers making sizeable commitments in robotics and machine learning for use in driverless cars. … IBM has pledged to invest $3 billion to make its Watson cognitive computing service a force in the Internet of Things.”
The lack of expertise is a major barrier, though, with the pool of true AI experts small. Alibaba, Amazon, Facebook, Google, and other tech behemoths have hired many of them. Companies have often adopted M&A as a way to sign up top talent, for sums that typically work out at a huge $5 million to $10 million per person.
Companies are expanding their search for talent abroad, with Facebook and Microsoft both rolling out AI initiatives in Paris. Plus Google recently invested $4.5 million in the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms, a research lab at the University of Montreal.
Image: Steve Mullins