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Baidu’s former chief scientist says companies need an AI strategy now

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Five years from now, company leaders will be looking back and wishing they developed an artificial intelligence strategy sooner, according to one of the veterans of the field.

Andrew Ng, the cofounder of Coursera and the former machine learning chief at Chinese tech powerhouse Baidu, said that he thinks Fortune 500 businesses will find the rise of AI similar to the rise of the internet. Some top CEOs bemoan how their businesses were late to the party when it came to competing on the internet, and Ng said that the same thing will be true when it comes to AI.

In his view, businesses are best off hiring a leader with deep knowledge of the field who can help build up an organization’s knowledge and capabilities in a centralized way. That chief AI officer, as he described it, would be charged with helping to bring expertise in the field to the rest of the a company.

“I think that in eras that technology is immature — and I think that AI technology is immature, it’s evolving and changing all the time — it’s very difficult to sprinkle AI knowledge throughout your entire organization,” Ng told an audience at a Harvard Business Review event in San Francisco today.

Ng likened the need for centralized AI talent to the rush for mobile talent earlier in the century. When iOS and Android were new, it was harder for businesses to hire people with strong expertise developing mobile applications. As a result, businesses had to build centralized teams for building their mobile apps.

However, those teams are now going away, and mobile skills are being distributed more broadly across organizations. Ng sees that similar pattern holding with artificial intelligence at this point.

Along with acquiring new talent, Ng also said that business leaders should help develop their employees’ skills to better equip them to work on AI going forward.

“In the tech world, we’re used to learning stuff that shortly becomes obsolete, and you just have to learn something new,” he said. “So, I think most software engineers, most developers that have graduated from school five or ten years ago, you know, they should learn AI.”

One successful technique in that regard is the use of online learning content to help broadly educate a workforce for the new AI future.

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