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US companies clamour to hire for ambiguous AI leadership roles

The hottest new job in the US is ‘head of AI’ despite the fact that nobody knows quite what it entails. Is this a ploy to keep senior tech professionals cosy in relevant leadership roles?

AI can’t come for our jobs if we get out ahead of it, right?

In no field of work is this sentiment more widespread than tech. Experts of the field know the most about AI and its capabilities, after all.

The number of people in AI leadership roles has reportedly grown threefold in the past five years, according to a study from LinkedIn. This indicates that two things are taking place: one, AI is becoming increasingly integrated in corporate jobs, and two, those in tech management roles are concerned they could soon be tossed on the scrap heap.

Bucking the downward trend in tech hiring overall, senior AI positions are being filled everywhere from Amazon, to Netflix, to Coca-Cola, and all have vastly different visions for what a head of AI’s responsibilities should be.

While the majority agree that stewards of AI are needed – amid calls for stricter regulations in general – ratifying exactly what that means in practice is another thing entirely. When the parameters of AI itself remain ambiguous at best, what exactly are we to make of the supposed contribution of those overseeing it?

From what we’ve gleaned online, a general rule of thumb is that those employed by digital companies are tasked with finding ways to incorporate AI in their products. Those earning their stripes in non-tech, meanwhile, typically strategize ways the tech can improve the current business model.

We’ve certainly adopted the latter approach, as you can probably tell from the gorgeous headline image above, though we don’t expect an AI manager to start pulling the strings anytime soon at Thred. Kevin’s useful spreadsheets will suffice, for now.

A specialist in AI talent management at Gartner, Peter Krensky, believes that a quarter of companies on the Fortune 2000 list have already assigned AI leadership at Vice President level or above. He says this will likely rise to 80% within the next 12 months.

When asking exactly who should be donning the chief hats for this new frontier, the answers vary depending on who you ask. Conor Grennan, head of generative AI at NYU’s Stern business school, encourages students, professors, administrators, and recruiters to use the technology day-to-day.

More so, he believes that those in creative industries are better at explaining AI’s uses in laymen’s terms that will prove useful and easily digestible to other employees. ‘You don’t need to know the software running your iPhone, just order an Uber,’ Grennan explains.

On the other side of the coin, there is concern from portions of those more tech inclined who feel nuances of AI will be overlooked by those without specialist knowledge.

‘You really have to be an expert or you’re potentially going to be setting up the organisation for failures down the road because it’s very complicated,’ says FICO’s chief analytics officer Scott Zoldi – who has written more than 100 AI patents.

In a sense, this lack of consensus about AI’s application in the workplace marries up perfectly with our limited understanding of the technology in general. There’s a lot of guess work being thrown around and we need time to understand exactly what we’re dealing with.

In the meantime, though, putting in an application as ‘head of AI’ is a solid contingency plan to avoid being replaced by computer code.