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Hottest Job in Corporate America? The Executive in Charge of A.I.

by Isabella Walker
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In September, the Mayo Clinic in Arizona created a first-of-its-kind job at the hospital system: chief artificial intelligence officer.

Doctors at the Arizona site, which has facilities in Phoenix and Scottsdale, had experimented with A.I. for years. But after ChatGPT’s release in 2022 and an ensuing frenzy over the technology, the hospital decided it needed to work more with A.I. and find someone to coordinate the efforts.

So executives appointed Dr. Bhavik Patel, a radiologist who specializes in A.I., to the new job. Dr. Patel has since piloted a new A.I. model that could help speed up the diagnosis of a rare heart disease by looking for hidden data in ultrasounds.

“We’re really trying to foster some of these data and A.I. capabilities throughout every department, every division, every work group,” said Dr. Richard Gray, the chief executive of the Mayo Clinic in Arizona. The chief A.I. officer role was hatched because “it helps to have a coordinating function with the depth of expertise.”

Many people have long feared that A.I. would kill jobs. But a boom in the technology has instead spurred law firms, hospitals, insurance companies, government agencies and universities to create what has become the hottest new role in corporate America and beyond: the senior executive in charge of A.I.

The Equifax credit bureau, the manufacturer Ashley Furniture and law firms such as Eversheds Sutherland have appointed A.I. executives over the past year. In December, The New York Times named an editorial director of A.I. initiatives. And more than 400 federal departments and agencies looked for chief A.I. officers last year to comply with an executive order by President Biden that created safeguards for the technology.

In total, 122 people with the title of chief or vice president of A.I. joined a forum last year on Glassdoor, the company reviews site, up from 19 in 2022, Glassdoor said.

The A.I. executive jobs are appearing because organizations want to harness the transformative technology, said Randy Bean, the founder of the consulting firm NewVantage Partners, who advises companies on data and A.I. leadership. At the same time, he added, “organizations want to say, ‘Yeah, we have a chief A.I. officer,’ because that makes them look good.”

Other executive jobs have been formed in response to major technological and financial changes. In the 1980s, advances in computing power led to a boom in chief information officers and chief technology officers, who typically oversee how technology is used within a company or develop it. After the 2008 financial crisis, chief data officers were appointed to comply with new regulations and to manage how companies used data.

With A.I. executive roles, companies and organizations are looking for someone to help them navigate the technology’s risks and potential and how it might change the way people work.

In May, the health insurer Florida Blue promoted Svetlana Bender to the new job of vice president of A.I. and behavioral science for just that purpose. One of her first A.I. projects was to pilot an internal chatbot that can help write computer code and analyze customer data.

Dr. Bender, who was previously Florida Blue’s director of technology solutions, said her team would train the chatbot on customer data and open it to all employees to use. This month, she hired a director of A.I. to help with the work

“We want to move as quickly as possible” on using the technology, while making sure to keep customers’ insurance data safe, she said.

Accenture, a consulting firm, added a chief A.I. officer in September as clients became increasingly interested in the technology. The company promoted Lan Guan, who worked on global data and A.I., to the role to advise customers on how to incorporate A.I. into their businesses. Accenture is also building A.I. tools, including for the insurance industry.

The new job “underscores our ambition in the market, and how optimistic we are about what we’re seeing as the huge potential for our clients in A.I.,” Ms. Guan said.

At Western University in Ontario, Mark Daley, a computer science professor and chief information officer, took the new position of chief A.I. officer in October. While he still teaches, he left the role of chief information officer.

Dr. Daley has since focused on establishing over 30 pilot A.I. projects, including working with the research and finance team to automate auditing processes and collaborating with faculty in humanities to develop new courses.

“We’re in a moment where the best approach to generative A.I. is actually exploration and experimentation,” he said.

Some experts said the technology was changing so rapidly, it could soon outpace the roles. A Harvard Business Review article last year, co-written by NewVantage’s Mr. Bean, posited that chief A.I. and data officers were set up to fail because the jobs were “a high-pressure balancing act with a technology that offers huge risks and opportunities.”

Karin Kimbrough, the chief economist at LinkedIn, said A.I. would also evolve from a newfangled technology to something baked into everyone’s job. “A.I. will be across many roles, and it will be so ingrained that the specific A.I. job title will start to go away,” she said.

Some chief A.I. officers said their job had staying power. Dr. Patel of the Mayo Clinic in Arizona said a large part of his new job was to communicate with other doctors and regulators like the Food and Drug Administration and to identify how A.I. can make medical work more efficient.

“Modern-day health care still has a lot of gaps,” he said. “This is where I think we can smartly use artificial intelligence to bridge that gap, or at least reduce that.”

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