Artificial intelligence (AI) is proving to be a double-edged sword. While this can be said of most new technologies, both sides of the AI blade are far sharper, and neither is well understood.

Leaders hoping to avoid, or at least mitigate, unintended consequences of AI need both to build their pattern-recognition skills with respect to risks and to engage the entire organization so that it is ready to embrace the power and the responsibility associated with AI. The level of effort required to identify and control for all key risks dramatically exceeds prevailing norms in most organizations. Making real progress demands a multidisciplinary approach involving leaders in the C-suite and across the company; experts in areas ranging from legal and risk to IT, security, and analytics; and managers who can ensure vigilance at the front lines.

This article seeks to help by first illustrating a range of easy-to-overlook pitfalls. It then presents frameworks that will assist leaders in identifying their greatest risks and implementing the breadth and depth of nuanced controls required to sidestep them. Finally, it provides an early glimpse of some real-world efforts that are currently under way to tackle AI risks through the application of these approaches.

Before continuing, we want to underscore that our focus here is on first-order consequences that arise directly from the development of AI solutions, from their inadvertent or intentional misapplication, or from the mishandling of the data inputs that fuel them. There are other important consequences, among which is the much-discussed potential for widespread job losses in some industries due to AI-driven workplace automation. There also are second-order effects, such as the atrophy of skills (for example, the diagnostic skills of medical professionals) as AI systems grow in importance. These consequences will continue receiving attention as they grow in perceived importance but are beyond our scope here.

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