The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of artificial intelligence and its use in day-to-day operations.
According to the seventh annual Appen State of AI report released Tuesday, the use of AI is growing along with budgets as companies move away from proofs-of-concept and pilot projects to begin deploying artificial intelligence in their day-to-day operations.
"This year, the results reflect the nature of a maturing industry, one that has experienced a rapid push for development given the conditions of the global pandemic, as well as a shift towards internal efficiencies and away from general AI solutions," the report said.
As part of the trend toward operationalizing AI, the study found that AI project responsibility is now in the hands of vice presidents (28%) and directors (25%) at larger firms. At smaller organizations, the study found that managers (31%) are more responsible for operationalizing AI projects.
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"This year, we have seen a reverse of a trend from 2020," the report said. "AI responsibility has trended away from the C-suite and into the rest of the organization, making AI projects more operational."
Organizations of all sizes said they accelerated their AI strategy as a result of COVID-19 in 2020 and will continue to do so in 2021.
"When we first set out to understand the state of AI and machine learning seven years ago, organizations globally were eager to start AI projects but weren't making meaningful progress and Gartner cited very high failure-to-complete rates," Appen's CTO, Wilson Pang, said in a press release. "Today, in a time of transition, AI is considered core to survival, and we see this in the key results of the survey."
Budgets also are on the rise with 74% of respondents reporting AI budgets over $500,000. Budgets from $500,000 to $5 million have increased by 55% year over year, with only 26% reporting budgets under $500K. The study found that organizations with AI budgets of $1 million or more were more likely to see AI projects reach the deployment phase and produce a ROI. A majority of business leaders (67%) said AI projects have "shown meaningful ROI."
At 62%, the No. 1 AI use case was supporting internal IT operations. Fifty-five percent of respondents said they were looking to improve their understanding of corporate data while 54% were looking to improve productivity and efficiency of internal business processes.
Just under half of all respondents (49%) we're looking to AI for the development of new products, while a near-equal share (48%) we're looking to support manufacturing and production.
While managing AI bias is an important concern across organizations regardless of size, business leaders are more concerned with business risk compared to technologists (66% to 62%), not the fairness or ethics of the algorithms in use. Technologists tend to be slightly more concerned with ethics and fairness than business leaders (41% to 33%).
AI governance was more of a concern for larger organizations than smaller ones.
About the survey
The online survey of 501 respondents was conducted by The Harris Poll between March 1 to March 19, 2021. The random sample consisted of 251 business leaders and managers and 250 data scientists, data engineers and developers. All respondents worked for companies with 100+ employees based in the U.S. market.
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