How confident are global CEOs in artificial intelligence?

Companies across the globe are spending billions on AI as they look to gain a competitive edge, but remain wary of social, ethical and security risks

The question of how to integrate artificial intelligence into business activities is seemingly on the lips of pretty much every global CEO.

Leaders are wary of being left behind if they aren’t quick to deploy AI capabilities but, at the same, are conscious of the disaster that could follow if they fail to carry out proper checks before investing. 

It’s easy to see why companies might feel under pressure to spend big on this emerging technology, especially when a plethora of tech giants are pouring so much resource into it. What’s more, IBM research has shown around three-quarters of CEOs believe gaining competitive advantage in future will depend on who has the most advanced AI capabilities.

EY’s latest CEO Outlook Pulse survey shows a similar level of support for AI integration, with almost two-thirds (65%) of CEOs agreeing it is a force for good. 

However, there remain some big concerns. Almost the same proportion of leaders say more work must be done to address the social, ethical and security risks of AI, including cyber attacks, disinformation and deepfakes.

What’s more, two-thirds (67%) of CEOs argue the business community needs to focus on the ethical implications of AI, while 64% believe businesses aren’t doing enough to manage the unintended consequences of the technology.​​​​​​​

Andrea Guerzoni, EY Global Vice Chair for Strategy and Transactions

"CEO concerns about the unintended consequences of AI reflect a broader confluence of – sometimes dystopian – views in media, society and contemporary culture,” says Andrea Guerzoni, EY Global Vice Chair for Strategy and Transactions.

“They see a role for business leaders to address these fears; an opportunity to engage on the ethical implications of AI and how its use could impact key areas of our lives, such as privacy. 

“CEOs clearly see the huge advantages of AI and its potential to drive productivity and positive outcomes for all stakeholders, which has galvanised investment in AI-driven innovation. They know that bold actions to harness the upside potential will lead to future competitive advantage.”

Despite the aforementioned concerns, a recent study carried out by Accenture found almost three-quarters (73%) of global companies were prioritising AI over all other digital investments. EY’s findings echo this, with 88% of CEOs integrating artificial intelligence into their capital allocation and 43% of those actively investing. 

M&A expected to rebound in 2024 

EY’s survey, carried out on its behalf by FT Longitude, involved conversations with 1,200 CEOs from nations including the US, Canda, Mexico, Brazil, Germany, the UK, China and Australia, representing a wide variety of industries. 

Another key finding from the research is that appetite for mergers and acquisitions is close to a record high, although the Big Four consulting firm points out that barriers to doing deals – like increasing regulation and higher cost of capital – will surely disrupt these plans. 

Even so, nearly all (98%) CEOs expect to actively pursue a strategic transaction in the next 12 months, up from 89% in January. Three in five (59%) are looking to M&A, 47% intend to divest and 63% are looking to enter strategic alliances or joint ventures. 

Moreover, leaders are increasingly incorporating AI into their M&A strategies, leveraging the technology in their deal sourcing and processing. 

“Despite economic headwinds, accelerating technology innovation and continued disruption, CEOs want to get on the offensive – and many are looking at deals to make that happen,” adds Guerzoni.

“The future of M&A deal-making means significantly more information needs to be captured, processed, analysed and interpreted than ever before. Traditional means are no longer effective in delivering a competitive edge. AI capabilities, deployed correctly, may be the key to unlocking even more value through M&A.”

Read the full report: CEO Outlook Pulse – July 2023


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