AI a growing cause of 'tech anxiety' among business leaders

07 September 2023 4 min. read

More than nine-in-ten organisations have a digital transformation strategy, with the largest number prioritising AI and machine learning as part of that. But the fears of executives may be holding these transformations back, with almost a fifth admitting the technology is a leading driver of anxiety in their organisation.

2023 has seen the hype around AI go into overdrive. As investors look for a new holy grail to pour money into – after the spectacular downfall of the crypto-economy, blockchain, NFTs and the metaverse – the seemingly limitless potential of AI has swiftly moved up the corporate agenda, as firms look to capitalise on excitement for the technology.

A recent study from McKinsey & Company, for example, alluded to a mouthwatering prospect of realising an extra $4.4 trillion in productivity annually (although what much coverage of that study failed to allude to was that this was just the most optimistic of several scenarios it presented). Amid this kind of publicity, it may not come as a surprise that companies are once again gripped by a fear of missing out on the latest technological innovation – in spite of the uncertainty it is shrouded in.

AI a growing cause of 'tech anxiety' among business leaders

UK professional services firm Kin + Carta recently surveyed 800 senior leaders to discuss their current experiences and future priorities. The survey found that 94% of large organisations currently have a digital transformation strategy, while 75% believe that “investment in digital transformation is necessary within the next 12 months”. When asked what they meant by digital transformation exactly, roughly half said they used the term digital transformation to describe AI and machine learning.

On top of this, AI and machine learning were the most common investment priorities for business leaders. With the potential for AI to disrupt multiple industries seemingly clear in their minds, almost 15% said that the technologies were now their leading priority for investment, ahead of cyber security and improving customer experience.

Not everyone is as enthused with this development, though, and Kin + Carta also found that there were notable concerns about AI and machine learning among executives. While a poll by Boston Consulting Group recently suggested that 80% of business leaders already used generative AI in their own work, Kin + Carta suggests that almost 20% of leaders find that AI and machine learning cause the greatest anxiety among senior leadership at their organisation.


AI a growing cause of 'tech anxiety' among business leaders

The study found that 35% of the leaders who found AI and machine learning caused anxiety noted that the technology was “moving too fast”. As technologies advance, there is potential for AI and machine learning to create disruption alongside multiple ethical challenges – all of which carry added weight in a market where consumers are prioritising purpose-driven businesses. The technology is widely associated with concerns around intellectual property infringement, the undercutting of wages, job displacement, data privacy, and algorithm bias. On top of this, the early forms of the technology could also trigger unintended consequences or errors in decision-making processes.

This still placed AI behind cyber security as a cause of anxiety, at close to 25% of respondents. But it is the fastest growing fear among the 94% of leaders to report ‘tech anxiety’ among their organisational leadership – and those mounting apprehensions could hold firms back when looking to get the most from the new technology. The researchers warn that companies need to avoid blowing their concerns out of proportion, and assert that thorough planning can help avoid many of the perceived risks.

Kin + Carta Global Chief Strategy Officer Richard Neish commented, “Overall, it appears that tech anxiety among leadership is primarily triggered by factors and technologies with the potential to significantly disrupt the established ways of working. We’ve all seen reports about the huge potential impact of AI, while previously we have seen cloud, mobile and indeed the birth of the world wide web completely alter the way businesses operate. There’s no doubt that technology is moving incredibly quickly, but concerns such as data trust and the internal skills gap can be managed, as long as businesses invest in the right areas.”