Two-Thirds of Business Executives Say Covid-19 Hasn’t Slowed AI Projects

Some 40% even said the pandemic even accelerated their efforts

Illustration of a brain as a computer chip
AI budgets are on the rise despite the pandemic. Pixabay

While the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent recession have prompted many businesses to put nonessential projects on hold, close to 70% of executives surveyed in a recent report said the situation hasn’t had an effect on artificial intelligence efforts at their companies.

The stat comes from a survey of 347 business leaders across a variety of industries conducted by Australian AI data company Appen. While about 31% of respondents said the pandemic has either somewhat (24%) or significantly (8%) delayed AI strategies, about 41% said the pandemic had actually sped up such efforts.

The report also found an increase in the number of execs who said AI strategies were now led by members of the C-suite—a jump to 71% of respondents from 40% last year—suggesting that companies increasingly see the field as essential to their core business.

Budgets are growing too; 28% of execs said their allocated AI budget is between $500,000 and $5 million, twice as many as last year’s 13%. The small fraction with AI budgets beyond $5 million has similarly doubled from 4% to 8%.

“Increasing investment in AI projects and greater involvement by the C-suite, along with accelerating enterprise adoption in the wake of COVID-19, are clear indicators that AI is core to business success,” Appen CEO Mark Brayan said in the report. “However, most companies are still in the early stages and facing challenges, especially around training data.”

Still, nearly half of business executives feel that their company is lagging in the adoption of new AI technology, a finding that fits with other surveys showing companies are often overwhelmed by the prospect of overhauling operations. Enterprise tech companies and consultancies have increasingly been attempting to address this feeling by automating the very process of developing AI systems.

Even so, Brayan claims the tech could soon be as fundamental as a web connection to business operations. “Many organizations have adopted the use of the internet at the core of their processes, and AI is on a similar journey from fringes to core value offering,” he said.

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@patrickkulp Patrick Kulp is an emerging tech reporter at Adweek.