Chief AI Officer: Origin Story

Age of AI is coming – and with that – the time for CAIO: Chief Artificial Intelligence Officer is coming too. CAIO is supposed to be the point person in the organization with the responsibility of effective deployment of AI. I motivate students in my Artificial Intelligence for Business classes with the pitch that the class will prepare them for a career path leading to the role of a CAIO.

Opinions are mixed on whether you need a CAIO, whether it is a good idea to have one. Andrew Ng in HBR says Yes:

The benefit of a chief AI officer is having someone who can make sure AI gets applied across silos… A dedicated AI team has a higher chance of attracting AI talent and maintaining standards… Hiring the right AI leader can dramatically increases your odds of success.

Tarun Gangwani at agrees: The CAIO would most likely be a seasoned businessperson with direct experience working on data analytics, cloud computing and machine learning technologies. On the other hand, Kristian Hammond at HBR is a strong No:

The very nature of the role aims at bringing the hammer of AI to the nails of whatever problems are lying around. This well-educated, well-paid, and highly motivated individual will comb your organization looking for places to apply AI technologies, effectively making the goal to use AI rather than to solve real problems.

Well – whichever way your loyalties lie (for the record – I am a Yes, at least in this initial phase when dedicated resources are needed to ramp up, deploy and extract value from AI investments), you would agree that would be great to see how this new buzzword: Chief Artificial Intelligence Officer came about. Thanks to a quick LexisNexis search, cleaning/exploration of resulting data and some judicious editorial decisions by me; here is the origin story of CAIO.

I searched the database for all News articles that mention the term “Chief AI Officer” or “Chief Artificial Intelligence Officer”. The first hit – all the way back in Dec 2013. In an article detailing technology forecasts for 2014, Automic (now part of Broadcom) predicts that the role of CIO will change to that of a CAIO. Unfortunately this article is dead on the interwebs right now so all I have to offer is an archived link on LexisNexis which may not work for you . So here is a PDF as the proof.

The CIO becomes the Chief AI Officer: Artificial intelligence will become an integral part of daily automation for everyday business. For example, Cloud AI will be based on a set of rules determined by the CIO that trigger when traffic spikes or server resource usage increases. With the CIO managing the resource automation during peak seasons, they will also become the AI officer spearheading all business and technology needs.

Seems like they had a pretty good idea of what was coming. This, to my knowledge, is the first usage of the term CAIO! Then the database takes a good three years’ break and the term makes its next appearance in 2016 in a Tumbler blog post that talks about this article from The Information that has this wonderful nugget:

While companies getting an early start with AI can get a competitive edge, the technology has far-reaching impact on business processes that companies must consider, Mr. Pratt said… Choosing what type of AI to buy and how to use it are among the challenges large companies will face in the future, Mr. Pratt said. Given the scope of these decisions, companies in the future will have to consider appointing a “chief AI officer” to oversee these projects, Mr. Pratt said.

That’s Mr. Stephen Pratt, then and now CEO of Noodle Analytics. Congratulations Mr. Pratt – you hit the nail on the head, and before anybody else! 2016!!

Now we are ending 2016 and we get Andrew Ng’s HBR article: Hiring Your First Chief AI Officer. Now the idea is mainstream (it does not get any more mainstream than Harvard Business Review). Still, we don’t yet have any actual CAIOs. The very first mention of a CAIO comes in middle of 2017 from Portland: Ang Sun Chief Artificial Intelligence Officer of Cambia Health Solutions.

That’s Mr Ang Sun on the right. Sadly though, Mr Sun’s current designation seems to have changed to VP of Enterprise Data Science and Cognitive AI at Humana. I much preferred for Mr Sun the honor of being the first documented CAIO!

Well – this was now the right time for consultants to jump in – so we have McKinsey publishing interviews with AI experts including CAIO of Citadel: Li Deng. We have our second sighting of a CAIO in the wild. They are proliferating now!

It is Oct 2017 now. There have been sporadic media attention on CAIO – for example in the context of Advertising: AdAge publishes about CAIO in big media agencies. We are now waiting for a widely impactful piece – and that comes in the form of a Teradata survey report:  State of AI for Entrepreneurs.

There you have it – the conclusion: Chief AI Officer Emerging to Drive Strategy and ROI from AI Technologies.

That’s it. We are now officially in the buzzword category. CAIO, the term, is now popular and part of business vernacular. 

Hope you liked the Origin Story of CAIO. Caution: this post is based on search of LexisNexis News database. This is not supposed to be exhaustive. If an information source is not cataloged by Lexis then it is not part of this post. Plus I am exclusively focusing in the term CAIO – other similar designations – say VP of AI, is not part of this post.

The header image on top is a word cloud made with all the headlines returned by Lexis when searched for CAIO. Here it is again in all its glory.