In September, the Mayo Clinic in Arizona created a first-of-its-kind position in the hospital system: director of artificial intelligence.
Doctors at the Arizona center, which has facilities in Phoenix and Scottsdale, had experimented with AI for years. But after the launch of ChatGPT in 2022 and a resulting frenzy on The technologythe hospital decided it needed to work more with AI and find someone to coordinate the efforts.
So executives appointed Dr. Bhavik Patel, a radiologist specializing in AI, to the new position. Dr. Patel has since put a new AI model to the test that could help speed up the diagnosis of a rare heart disease by searching for hidden data in ultrasound scans.
“We’re really trying to foster some of these data and AI capabilities in every department, every division, every work group,” said Dr. Richard Gray, CEO of the Mayo Clinic in Arizona. The AI director position arose because “it helps to have a coordination role with a lot of experience.”
Many people have a lot of time feared that AI would destroy jobs. But the rise of technology has prompted law firms, hospitals, insurance companies, government agencies and universities to create what has become the hottest new position in corporate America and beyond: the top executive in charge of the AI.
Credit bureau Equifax, manufacturer Ashley Furniture and law firms such as Eversheds Sutherland have appointed AI executives over the past year. In December, The New York Times named an editorial director of AI initiatives. And more than 400 federal departments and agencies sought AI chiefs last year to meet a executive order by President Biden who created safeguards for technology.
In total, 122 people with the title of head or vice president of AI joined a forum last year on Glassdoor, the business review site, up from 19 in 2022, Glassdoor said.
AI executive positions are emerging because organizations want to take advantage of the transformative technology, said Randy Bean, founder of the consulting firm NewVantage Partners, which advises companies on data and AI leadership. At the same time, he added, “organizations want to say, ‘Yes, we have a chief AI officer,’ because that makes them look good.”
Other executive positions have been formed in response to major technological and financial changes. In the 1980s, advances in computing power led to a rise in chief information officers and chief technology officers, who typically oversee how technology is used within a company or how it is developed. After the 2008 financial crisis, chief data officers were appointed to comply with new regulations and manage how companies used data.
With AI executive roles, companies and organizations are looking for someone to help them navigate the risks and potential of the technology and how it could change the way people work.
In May, health insurer Florida Blue promoted Svetlana Bender to the new role of vice president of AI and behavioral sciences for precisely that purpose. One of her first AI projects was testing 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 with customer data and open it up for all employees to use. This month, she hired an AI director to help with the work.
“We want to move as quickly as possible” in the use of technology, while making sure we keep customers’ insurance data secure, he said.
Accenture, a consulting firm, added a director of artificial intelligence in September as clients became increasingly interested in the technology. The company promoted Lan Guan, who worked in global data and AI, to the position of advising clients on how to incorporate AI into their businesses. Accenture is also creating artificial intelligence tools, including for the insurance industry.
The new role “underlines our ambition in the market and how optimistic we are about what we see as huge potential for our customers in AI,” Ms. Guan said.
At Western University in Ontario, Mark Daley, a computer science professor and chief information officer, took on the new role of chief AI officer in October. Although he still teaches, he left the CIO position.
Since then, Dr. Daley has focused on establishing more than 30 AI pilot projects, including working with the research and finance team to automate audit processes and collaborating with humanities professors to develop new courses.
“We’re at a point in time where the best approach to generative AI is really exploration and experimentation,” he said.
Some experts said the technology was changing so rapidly that it could soon overtake features. TO Harvard Business Review article Last year, co-written by NewVantage’s Mr. Bean, he posited that AI and data managers were doomed to fail because the jobs were “a high-pressure balancing act with a technology that offers enormous risks and opportunities.”
Karin Kimbrough, chief economist at LinkedIn, said AI would also evolve from a novel technology to something integrated into everyone’s work. “AI will span many roles and become so entrenched that the AI-specific job title will begin to disappear,” she said.
Some AI directors said their work had staying power. Dr. Patel, of the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, said a big part of his new job was communicating with other doctors and regulators like the Food and Drug Administration and identifying how AI can do medical work more efficient.
“Modern healthcare still has many gaps,” he said. “This is where I think we can intelligently use artificial intelligence to close that gap, or at least reduce it.”