Leaders in the business world are recognizing the importance of new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT). A survey by the CNBC Global CFO (Chief Financial Officer) Council has found that more than one in four CFOs (26 percent) consider AI and machine learning as critical to their company, and nearly half (44 percent) think that it is "very important."
The survey is a key indicator of trends and viewpoints in big business, taking account of the views of some of the largest private companies worldwide which collectively have a market cap of more than $4 trillion in a variety of sectors.
AI's role in business may be even more significant than this survey suggests, as there is an overlap between this category and the second most critical technology in the survey, the IoT. Most IoT systems utilize AI, particularly to learn, streamline themselves, and self correct.
Although Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies are making headlines — such as Bitcoin prices soaring to over $2,000 and China testing a cryptocurrency for potential national implementation — they are not a major concern among these massive corporations. About 23 percent said that technology related to virtual currencies was "not at all important," and only 3 percent said that it was critical.
These results show a real-world reflection of the trends in business, cutting through the marketing, jargon, and verbiage surrounding technologies. They show that AI has not just become critical in some industries, but has permeated the business world itself, changing the very way companies operate.
It is being applied across the board to the entire spectrum of the production and consumption processes: from being used to help hire employees, to replacing cashiers in retail stores, to taking the jobs of money-management workers.
Blockchain did not rank highly on this year's survey, but this may be because it is only having a fundamental effect in a small number of sectors — such as humanitarian aid and some aspects of the food industry — and because these statistics show the current world, not a forecast of the one to come.
Companies are extremely interested in blockchain technology, but it has not become crucial to them yet because of issues of risk and integration. Blockchain likely will be ranked much more highly on the survey in the coming years. The writing is on the wall already: Wall Street is trying to implement it by 2018, IBM has launched its own cryptocurrency, and cities like Dubai want it to be the default for their economies by 2020.