Canadian firms care more about AI ethics than U.S.: SAS survey

Artificial intelligence (AI) is on everyone’s lips these days, but is it being used ethically? Analytics firm SAS Institute partnered with Intel Corp., Accenture Applied Intelligence, and Forbes Insights, the strategic research and thought leadership practice of Forbes Media, to find out.

Forbes Insights surveyed 305 business leaders from the Americas, EMEA, and Asia Pacific in financial services, manufacturing, retail, government, communications, and oil, gas and energy. Most (78 percent) had over 5,000 employees, while 19 per cent had 1,000 – 4,999, and the remainder under 1,000 employees.

The results, announced at the SAS Analytics Experience conference this week in San Diego, revealed that 70 per cent of AI adopters – which represent 72 per cent of organizations surveyed globally – train their technologists in ethics, and 63 percent have an ethics committee that reviews the use of AI, with an additional 13 percent considering establishing one. AI leaders who consider their implementations “successful” or “highly successful” led in the ethics training realm as well, with 92 per cent globally training their technologists, compared to 48 per cent of other AI adopters.

These AI leaders also had mature data-driven processes, with 79 per cent saying that analytics has a major role in their AI strategy, while only 14 per cent of the less successful organizations made the connection between analytics and the automation and machine learning components of AI.

Despite the wide implementation, there are still some concerns; 60 per cent of organizations that have or plan to deploy AI stated concerns about the impact of AI-driven decisions on customer engagement. Still, 72 per cent are using AI in one or more business areas, and 51 pe rcent stated that their deployments were successful. Key benefits included more accurate forecasting, improved customer acquisition, and higher productivity and reduction or elimination of manual tasks.

External communication, marketing/sales, and customer interactions were the top three areas of deployment globally.

Canadian adoption figures reflect this country’s more conservative approach to new technology. While in the U.S., 74 per cent of organizations have adopted AI, 68 percent of Canadian firms have done so. However, 67 per cent of Canadians stated that they have ethics training for technologists and 73 percent have ethics committees, compared to 59 percent and 65 percent respectively in the U.S.

“The survey results confirm that Canada can be a global leader in ethical AI,” said Jodie Wallis, managing director and lead for Accenture’s Artificial Intelligence Practice in Canada. “In Canada, we are concerned about the social implications of AI and spend a lot of time testing the technology and ensuring we don’t have unintended consequences. This creates a clear opportunity for additional economic value from it.”

However, noted Mary Beth Ainsworth, product marketing manager at SAS, “There’s no international standard for ethics. Ethics is 100 percent in the human domain.”

Executives are optimistic about AI’s effect on jobs, with 59 per cent agreeing that they did not anticipate any impact, and 64 per cent agreeing that they were already seeing elevation of job roles to concentrate on strategic rather than operational tasks. On the other hand, 20 percent globally (in Canada, 39 per cent, and in the US, 22 per cent) did observe that one challenge to implementation was employee resistance due to concerns about job security. And 57 percent globally (Canada: 51 percent, US: 62 percent) worry about the impact of AI on employee relations.

“AI is disruptive,” said Oliver Schabenberger, chief technology officer and chief operating officer at SAS. “When organizations implement AI, it doesn’t just fit without rethinking the people and processes.”

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Lynn Greiner
Lynn Greiner
Lynn Greiner has been interpreting tech for businesses for over 20 years and has worked in the industry as well as writing about it, giving her a unique perspective into the issues companies face. She has both IT credentials and a business degree.

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