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The generative adoption rate of AI for business has yet to match the hype around the technology, with data privacy, regulation and IT infrastructure acting as major barriers to its widespread use, according to a recent study.

The global survey of more than 300 business leaders by MIT Technology Review Insights and Australia-based telecommunications company Telstra revealed that only 9% of them make significant use of AI.

Although most leaders were optimistic about the potential of AI and expected to expand its use, even the early adopters of this technology have currently implemented it in limited business areas.

“There is a misconception about how easy it is to operate mature, enterprise-ready, generative AI,” Stella Solar, inaugural director at Australia’s National Center for Artificial Intelligence, said in the research report.

Adopting it could require companies to “improve data quality and capabilities, privacy measures, AI skills and introduce safe and responsible AI governance across the organization,” he added

“There are surrounding elements like application design, data connection and business processes, corporate policies and more that are still needed.”

Ambitions and tailwinds

Most business leaders said they expect the number of business functions or general purposes for which generative AI will be deployed to more than double by 2024.

Early adopters in 2023 have mostly adopted the technology to automate low-value, repetitive tasks because they require less human supervision, said Chris Levans, head of marketing for South Asia at Telstra.

Up to 85% of respondents expect to use generative AI for these low-value tasks by 2024, with 77% expecting to deploy it in customer service and 74% for strategic analytics.

Product innovation, supply chain logistics and sales were other areas of potential implementation.

The report, which labels these plans high on “ambition and hubris,” mentions several headwinds to widespread deployment of generative AI in the coming year, particularly IT resources and capabilities.

Less than 30% of respondents ranked the IT attributes in their companies as conducive to rapid adoption of generative AI, with those implementing generative AI having even less confidence in their IT infrastructure to support the new technology.

Meanwhile, 56% of respondents said their IT investment budgets were generally a limiting factor in implementing generative AI.

A whopping 77% of respondents cited regulations, compliance and data privacy as key barriers to the rapid adoption of generative AI — a leading issue for the generative AI ecosystem since the technology came to light in late 2022 following the launch of Open AI’s popular ChatGPT.

Since then, technology has led to numerous lawsuits related to the copyright of AI-generated material. Large companies have also experienced leaks of sensitive information and security issues due to its use.

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Speaking to the media at the launch of the MIT report in Singapore on Monday, Lawrence Liu, director of AI innovation at AI Singapore, reiterated that addressing these risks will require establishing well-established governance structures and security protocols for AI models.

“Companies need to ask, do we have proper governance in place and are our internal documents properly segmented or protected?” said Liew, noting that businesses will want to avoid having AI models that can be tricked into revealing personal information such as employee salaries.

The ability to address these risks also depends on companies implementing robust internal cybersecurity measures, according to the report, with a slim majority of respondents saying their cybersecurity measures are “at best modestly capable” of supporting generative AI deployments .

Other barriers to generative AI adoption according to respondents include the lack of appropriate generative AI skills. Companies worry that they don’t have the right talent internally and that it’s not available in the market.

The destroyers against the destroyed

Still, the survey reflects overall positive sentiment about the future role of generative AI in business. While six in 10 respondents expect generative AI to significantly disrupt their industry in the next five years, 78% see it as a competitive opportunity. About 8% see it as a threat.

While building generative AI solutions that can responsibly process large amounts of data and contextualize it for business is extremely challenging, it will soon be worth the investment, according to Geraldine Corr, managing director for South Asia and head of global enterprise at Telstra International.

“When successfully implemented, [generative AI] skills will be a game-changer for most organizations and will differentiate leaders from followers,” she said in a statement about the survey on Monday.

Generative AI Revolution: Shaping Tomorrow's Industries

According to a report by McKinsey released last year, generative AI is expected to have the greatest impact on the sales, marketing, consumer operations, software development, and R&D sectors and could add an estimated $4.4 trillion annually to the global economy.