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The Chief AI Officer is Having a Moment

The latest role to enter the chat, Chief Artificial Intelligence Officer, or CAIO, reflects the transformative impact of AI on public and private enterprise, and society as a whole. The CAIO ensures that AI initiatives support and enhance the company's strategic objectives rather than operating in isolation or merely serving as technical novelties. As a part of the leadership team, they own the vision of AI across the entire organization and lead the strategic direction of winning business with AI.

As an indication of the importance of AI governance and oversight, the U.S. Justice Department named its first official focused on AI. Jonathan Mayer, a professor at Princeton University will serve as chief science and technology adviser and chief AI officer, advising on emerging technologies and responsible AI.


“The Justice Department must keep pace with rapidly evolving scientific and technological developments in order to fulfill our mission to uphold the rule of law, keep our country safe and protect civil rights,"

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland

Dedicated conferences and summits  are springing up geared towards this new cohort of technology professionals to discuss AI Ethics and Regulations, Generative AI and Machine Learning Operations. These event are opportunities to network, debate key topics and gain insight into the latest use cases and innovations. Who attends them? Chief AI Officers, VPs of Applied AI, Data Scientists and Directors of Emerging Tech.


When Did C-Suite Titles Become A Thing?

Technically, the first C-level title/role appeared in 1917, during the progressive era—a period that welcomed mass production and industrial regulations and, with them, the arrival of automobiles, airplanes, telephones, and radio. Despite this massive corporate growth, C-suite positions weren't prevalent until after World War II, when rapidly expanding companies took their businesses public and the role of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) was brought into being.

By the middle of the 20th century, additional chief officer positions emerged:

  • 1960s Chief Financial Officer (CFO)

  • 1980s Chief Information Officer (CIO), Chief Human Resources Officer (CHO)

  • 1990s Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)


When Did Security Get Its Chief Executives?

The first executive title in the cybersecurity sector was introduced in 1994, when, responding to Russian cyber-attacks, Citigroup hired Steve Katz as the world's first CISO (Chief Information Security Officer). Since then, we have seen the proliferation of executive positions overseeing various aspects of cybersecurity. 


How Did We Get From CISOs To CAIOs?

It's fascinating to trace the path that started with CISO and led up to the newest AI executive roster member. Two caveats: First, this blog post cover the roles most aligned with data governance and data protection. Second, some of the officer roles listed don't carry official C-suite titles (which is a specific distinction meaning 'appointed by the board of directors to manage the activities of a public corporation’, e.g., CEO, COO). Regardless, these roles are typically at the Vice President or Senior Vice President level and report directly to the CEO of one of their staff.  I’ve categorized the roles as either emerging on the legal/ compliance or business side, meaning their reporting structure and focus of their day to day responsibilities is primarily legal and compliance or business strategy and technical programs. But keep in mind there is often overlap and collaboration and these roles are of course evolving.

Chief Legal Officer (CLO)

They are the general counsel, i.e., lead attorney for an organization and are responsible for helping to ensure organizations are protecting their employees, assets, and stakeholders in accordance with the law.

Data Protection Officer (DPO)

This role oversees data protection regulatory requirements for certain types of companies – the DPO role is required under the GDPR (sections 35, 37, 38 and 39.) DPOs assist companies in monitoring internal compliance with the processing of personal data of employees and customers, inform and advise on data protection obligations, provide advice regarding Data Protection Impact Assessments (DPIAs), and act as a contact point for data subjects and regulators. 


Chief Compliance Officer/Ethics Officer 

Last but not least in the legal/compliance category is the Chief Compliance Officer. These corporate executives oversee and manage regulatory issues and compliance programs. Often, the Chief Compliance Officer is also the Chief Ethics Officer. In this case, ethics generally refers to corporate ethics (Code of Business Conduct, anti-corruption, bribery) and not data ethics. This role is relatively new--emerging in the last five years.

Chief Privacy Officer (CPO)

CPOs have been seen staffed primarily in European companies for the past twenty to thirty years and became more prevalent in the US in the last ten years for global companies due to EU data protection laws such as GDPR. The CPO typically reports to a senior business leader (Chief Compliance Officer, Chief Trust Officer, or Chief Financial Officer) but could also report to the CLO. Their primary responsibility is to manage risks related to information privacy laws and regulations. The role of a CPO involves developing, implementing, and maintaining policies that protect employee and customer data. The CPO manages the company's policies, procedures, and data governance, and drives employee privacy-related awareness and training.


Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)

The CISO typically reports to a Chief Technology Officer or, more recently, a Chief Trust Officer. CISOs focus on protecting their organization's information assets against cyber threats and oversee an organization's information, cyber, and technology security. The CISO's responsibilities include developing, implementing, and enforcing security policies.


Chief Trust Officer (CTrO)

This role emerged in the last 3-5 years. Often a leader of data protection (security and privacy programs) and could also lead responsible AI and data ethics initiatives. The CTrO typically reports to the Chief Technology Officer, Chief Legal Officer, or CEO.


LinkedIn Job Posts Attest To A Growing Need For CAIO Roles

This brings us back to the latest addition, the CAIO. Recent LinkedIn search results include Chief AI Officer job postings from leading companies such as HP, Walt Disney, JP Morgan Chase & Co, and Google. Many organizations seek subject matter experts in AI. There is also a growing demand for PhDs with computer science backgrounds - highly attractive to organizations in need of executives to drive their AI business strategies. These roles currently appear to be less focused on the compliance side of AI but would likely work in tandem with Chief Trust Officers in developing responsible AI programs. 

Here’s to the Chief AI Officer!

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