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Everything we learned at Brainstorm AI this year

Duy Ho/FORTUNE

Hello and welcome to a special edition of Eye on AI.

This week, Fortune hosted its third annual Brainstorm AI conference. About two hundred industry experts gathered at America's AI capital, San Francisco, to discuss the many ways this technology is changing the ways we live and work, and to share insights on how companies can get the most out of AI tech.

The event brought together a wide variety of perspectives and expertise, from senior executives of giant enterprises including FedEx, BestBuy, and IBM, to founders of AI startups, investors, and policymakers, such as the White House director of science and tech policy.

When Fortune hosted the event last year, ChatGPT had just been released. This year, as the seminal generative AI tool celebrates its one-year anniversary, attendees had loads of real-world experience to report and dig into. Here are some of the highlights from the key themes discussed at the conference.

Labor

AI will bring big changes to the workforce, eliminating many jobs but also creating new ones to take advantage of possibilities opened up by the technology. According to many of the speakers at the event, businesses are not ready for the coming changes: “I think we’re woefully unprepared,” said Atif Rafiq, founder and CEO of Ritual.work. "Organizations are not preparing their teams to tap AI to do it better and smarter, but on top of that, it’s a vulnerability for the workforce because AI, I think, is the ultimate bar-raiser,” Rafiq said.

Paul Daugherty, the CTO of Accenture (Fortune's conference partner and sponsor of Eye on AI) explained why getting employees up-to-speed with new AI tools and processes is just as important as investing in the technology. “There is no AI-ready workforce you can hire a year from now, or two years from now, or three years from now,” he said. “You need to bring your workforce with you and develop them.”

Implementing AI

Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince took a provocative stance and suggested that most companies deploying AI today are "lighting money on fire." But there were numerous examples at the conference of companies using AI successfully. While the cool factor of AI can tempt companies to invest resources in science projects with little direct payoff, Workday vice president of AI Kathy Pham said the key was to stick to the basic business principle of focusing on the customer. Go out “into the field” to understand the real needs of customers, whether they be truckers or health care workers, Pham advised.

Another frequently mentioned tip: Don't just leave your AI project to the engineers. “AI truly is a techno-social problem," said Credo AI's founder and CEO Navrina Singh, noting that successful companies are the ones that involve people from data science, risk, compliance, and policy.

Finally, aligning the expectations of senior management and the middle managers and workers tasked with implementing the AI project should not be an afterthought. To underscore the issue, Upwork CEO Hayden Brown cited a revealing survey of 1,400 U.S. businesses about their AI strategies: 73% of C-suite executives were confident in their AI strategy, while only 53% of managers and VPs felt the same way.

Here's more coverage from the event:

Reid Hoffman, the cofounder of LinkedIn, says not to ‘fumble the future’ by overthinking AI risks

GenAI is turning the cybersecurity landscape—and the CISO role—on its head

Khan Academy’s founder says AI ‘coaches’ will soon submit essays to teachers instead of students

White House tech policy director says every U.S. citizen must have the ability to tell if images and videos released by the government are ‘authentic material’

AI is okay with boomers—natural language capabilities are helping the newest technology find an eager audience with older users

And if you couldn't make it to San Francisco, the good news is Fortune just announced that Brainstorm AI is going global, with the next events planned for London in April and Singapore in July, and of course, San Francisco, again, in December 2024. See you there!

Alexei Oreskovic

This story was originally featured on Fortune.com

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