global-artificial-intelligence-croppedNote to readers: This column focuses on the transformative impact of AI on the modern enterprise, a recurring critical issue for senior technology leaders as they interact with top management and executive boards.

Today, we’re on the cusp of a new revolution that will radically transform information technology and human culture itself. When historians of the future look back at the early 21st century, they will wonder if we realized how profoundly our world would change. 

For senior technology executives, the rise of artificial intelligence offers multiple challenges and opportunities. I guarantee the CEO, CFO, COO, CMO and Board of Directors will be asking you for updates and advice on the latest developments in AI. 

Additionally, you will be fielding intense questions from your team, many of whom will be concerned over the potential for AI to eliminate their jobs in the near future.

Make no mistake: AI will rock the foundations of our existence. Soon, most of the tasks we consider part of our daily lives will be performed by smart machines. 

Driving, shopping, cooking, cleaning, paying taxes, and registering your children for kindergarten will be fully automated. Instead of going to your doctor’s office for a checkup, you’ll merely place your fingertip on a special touchpad on your computer at home and instantly receive a diagnosis, as well as prescriptions for any medications you might need.

The heart and brain of this revolution is AI, which arose from years of dormancy to become one of the most important economic forces on the planet. 

But here’s the unexpected twist: The AI revolution isn’t evenly distributed. Almost all of the world’s AI innovation and development is taking place in two countries, the United States and China.

I recently watched a fabulous interview on CNBC with Kai-Fu Lee, chairman and CEO of Sinovation Ventures, a leading investment firm focused on developing the next generation of Chinese technology companies. In the interview, Lee warns of a looming age of inequality as China and the U.S. compete for dominance in the AI realm. AI is already becoming an “inequality multiplier,” Lee says, citing the shortage of affordable housing in San Francisco as an early example.

Lee isn’t worried about the ultimate economic fates of China and the U.S. The rest of the world, however, will find it extremely difficult to compete with the entrenched AI “superpowers.” That’s where the inequality will become problematic, he says.

As you would expect, Lee is bullish about China’s prospects as an AI leader. After listening to the CNBC interview, I ordered a copy of his new book, “AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order.” The book is definitely worth reading, and I recommend it highly.

“When Chinese investors, entrepreneurs, and government officials all focus in on one industry, they can truly shake the world,” Lee writes in his book. “Indeed, China is ramping up AI investment, research, and entrepreneurship on a historic scale. Money for AI startups is pouring in from venture capitalists, tech juggernauts, and the Chinese government.”

All of China, he suggests, is fascinated with AI. “Chinese students have caught AI fever as well, enrolling in advanced degree programs and streaming lectures from international researchers on their smartphones. Startup founders are furiously pivoting, reengineering, or simply rebranding their companies to catch the AI wave,” he writes.

Lee also makes an important point around the different waves of AI. He says major shifts won’t all manifest at once. They will instead come in waves: Internet AI, business AI, perception AI, and autonomous AI. The first wave of Internet AI appears around us today in the form of recommendation engines. The second wave of business AI mines vast amounts of business data to find hidden correlations. Perception AI enables algorithms to recognize objects in pictures and videos.

Lastly, the 4th wave of autonomous AI brings together the three previous waves. There aren’t many companies able to deliver on this 4th wave of AI, because of the complexity of solutions required, but they do exist and are already making an impact at many enterprises.

At a past HMG summit, a group of technology leaders took to our stage to discuss Moveworks, an enterprise SaaS company that is delivering the 4th wave today with the ability to autonomously resolve employee IT issues. Despite the company still operating in stealth mode, Moveworks is making waves in Silicon Valley with numerous enterprise customers already using its technology. It represents one of the first examples of autonomous AI in the IT industry and I suspect we’ll be hearing more about them this year. 

I’ll be writing and speaking more on this critical topic in the weeks and months ahead. Please join the conversation and share your opinions with me via email at hunterm@hmgstrategy.com.