BCG hosts expert forum on the future of AI for CEOs in the Middle East

16 May 2018 5 min. read

The Boston Consulting Group last week hosted its annual Middle East CEO Forum, bringing together regional and global business leaders to discuss the most pressing issues of the day, with matters surrounding artificial intelligence most prominent among the topics.

Held at the Palazzo Versace in Dubai, the location of one of the strategy and management giant’s three primary offices in the Gulf in addition to Abu Dhabi and Riyadh (the latter launched in 2015 and which is now helping the Saudi government with its landmark plan to reopen public cinemas), the 2018 BCG Middle East Forum welcomed CEOs from a variety of industries along with internationally renowned speakers on the subject of artificial intelligence (AI), covering topics such as the evolution from programming to learning, humanising AI for future benefit, and the emerging role of management in relation to the technology.

Apprising attendees at the invitation-only event on the latest areas of value and potential competitive advantages for businesses adopting AI technologies, the range of expert speakers included IBM Watson Group Vice President Jean-Philippe Desbiolles, and Greg Cross, Artificial Intelligence Pioneer and Chief Business Officer at Soul Machine, along with BCG Fellow and Senior Advisor Philip Evans; BCG Partner and Managing Director Bjoern Ewers, and Director of the BCG Institute for Organization, Yves Morieux.

Morieux, who joined BCG's Middle East practice from Washington earlier this year, said of the forum; “AI is not some complex and mysterious tool, it is a very real technology that can enhance your business. Participating in this leadership event was incredibly insightful; the GCC as a whole is considering AI as part of its government strategies, and businesses in the region are very keen to adopt this new technology; the CEO Forum demonstrated ways to make AI work in the business environment.”

BCG hosts expert forum on future AI for CEOs in the Middle East

Also in attendance this year was Rachel – a digital human with which the audience could interact in a demonstration of a humanised AI-personality – providing a first-hand experience of the future of artificial intelligence. Evans, who has been with BCG since 1978 and founded the firm’s Media and Internet practices, has previously spoken however on the conception that AI is on a course to replace humanity.

“There is a widespread perception that AI is converging on human intelligence, that there is a process of progress by which AI will become like human intelligence in the foreseeable future,” the esteemed tech strategist and best-selling author told a South Korean newspaper. “I’m frankly quite skeptical of that.” Evans, who in addition to the corporate world, has advised governments on military organisation, homeland security, economic development, and digital policy, continued;

“There are some things that machines are inherently incapable of doing and the most obvious one is emotion. They don’t feel emotion, and we know that they’re faking, but we don’t care… my own view is that it’s certainly great to be a data scientist, but it will be human emotional intelligence that will become more important in the future as the purely cognitive skills become less important.”

AI Adoption

A recent global executive study from BCG, conducted in conjunction with MIT Sloan Management Review, found that, while expectation is high for AI among business leaders – with almost 85% believing that the technology will allow their companies to obtain or sustain a competitive advantage – actual execution in lagging, such that barely over a third of companies have an AI strategy in place, and only one in twenty has extensively incorporated AI.

A further study noted that companies in emerging nations, in comparison to those in many industrialised nations, tended to be more bullish about the benefits AI will bring. Speaking on the BCG Middle East CEO forum, Joerg Hildebrandt, Senior Partner & Managing Director at BCG Middle East, outlined the progress in the region; “We are witnessing increasing commitment from GCC governments and corporations when it comes to bringing AI to the mainstream. The launch of the UAE Strategy for Artificial Intelligence is the first of its kind in the world and will address a variety of future services, sectors and infrastructure projects.”

“For UAE businesses, the adoption of AI offers a unique opportunity to radically enhance their competitive advantage through new offerings, sharper value propositions, and more efficient processes,” Hildebrandt continued, “While companies are expecting a lot from AI, few are actually using it. Our event aimed to demystify the technology and demonstrating its tangible benefits for organisations.”

Rich Lesser, BCG’s global CEO, has previously spoken on the major disruption facing the Middle East in the coming years and the role of consultancies in the region’s ambitious national transformations.