Impact of AI will be bigger than the internet revolution, say CEOs

19 Feb 2019

Image: © Sergey/

Distracted by a skills crisis and floundering in data, Irish CEOs’ attitude to the AI revolution is more complacent than their global counterparts.

Nearly half of Irish CEOs (46pc) believe that the dawn of AI (artificial intelligence) will have a larger impact on the world than the internet revolution has had so far. This belief in AI is stronger, however, among 62pc of global CEOs.

The latest PwC CEO survey, now into its 22nd year, reveals that skills tops the concerns of CEOs – at an all-time high in the history of the survey – with supply seen as a priority for 84pc of Irish CEOs. 63pc say they are planning to expand their workforce, also an all-time high.

‘Global CEOs are anticipating the AI revolution more so than Irish CEOs’

The survey contrasts the views of 235 Irish CEOs with 1,378 global counterparts on business sentiment, priorities, hopes and fears.

Hiring people has become more difficult for 75pc of Irish CEOs versus 62pc of global CEOs, and 70pc warn that the unavailability of key skills is causing people costs to rise faster than expected compared with 52pc of international CEOs.

“The survey highlights that the skills challenge is at an all-time high in the history of the survey. Having a pipeline of relevant skills for a digital world is one of the greatest priorities for businesses,” said Feargal O’Rourke, managing partner at PwC Ireland. “Businesses also need to think beyond today to fully grasp the opportunities that emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, can deliver.”

The latest survey also indicates that the digital revolution has utterly permeated the world of the Irish CEO with cybersecurity defined as the next big threat (79pc), ahead of geopolitical uncertainties such as Brexit (76pc), increasing tax burdens (67pc) and the future of the Eurozone (66pc). Compared to international CEOs, Irish CEOs are also worried about real estate costs and basic infrastructure.

96pc of multinational CEOs based in Ireland say they will increase or maintain their investment in Ireland, up from 91pc in 2017.

The survey reveals that the Irish CEOs appear to be floundering in a sea of data. Just 19pc say that the information they receive is adequate compared with 23pc for global decision-makers. Just 42pc believe they are ahead of competitors in terms of the ability to make decisions based on data and analytics, compared with the global average of 50pc.

Irish CEOs lag global counterparts on attitudes to AI

Despite almost half of Irish CEOs believing the impact of AI will be bigger than that of the internet revolution, Irish CEOs’ attitude to AI lags global counterparts on many aspects of the technology.

Close to two-thirds (64pc) agree that AI will significantly change the way they do business in the next five years compared to the global average of 85pc.

Just 49pc have plans to pursue AI initiatives at the moment compared to 77pc of global CEOs, while 48pc are of the view that AI will displace more jobs than it creates in the long run, compared to the global average of 49pc.

62p of Irish CEOs say AI is good for society, compared with 79pc of global CEOs.

78pc believe that government should develop a national strategy for AI, ahead of the global average 76pc.

“Global CEOs are anticipating the AI revolution more so than Irish CEOs,” warned PwC Ireland technology consulting leader David Lee.

“The survey suggests that Irish business leaders need to invest more in AI to keep up with global competitors and to fully leverage competitive advantage. They need to understand how AI can be applied in their businesses and ensure their organisations have the right talent, data and technology to fully exploit AI opportunities.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years