What Is a Chief AI Officer (CAIO) & Should Your University Appoint One?

How Is the CAIO Position Evolving?

As AI and its applications are constantly changing, the responsibilities and oversight of the newly created CAIO role are also in a state of flux.

“What is possible with the technology is evolving every day, so the range of interested stakeholders — and the academic and business problems they want to tackle — grows with it. I would characterize the position as one of constant evolution at the moment,” Daley says.

While the CAIO title is gaining traction, “other titles can also encompass AI leadership responsibilities within an organization,” Mathison says. “These hybrid titles reflect the multifaceted nature of AI leadership within organizations and the recognition that AI is often closely integrated with data, digitalization, technology and innovation efforts.”

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In some cases, a hybrid title might be more appropriate for an institution. For instance, “chief digital and AI officer” is used by a senior official at the Department of Defense. The specific title used depends on the organization’s size, industry and the extent to which AI is a strategic priority.

What Advantages Does a CAIO Provide for Universities?

Wording of the title aside, what remains absolutely necessary for anyone stepping into this new leadership role is to adhere to ethical and responsible AI practices while effectively navigating the evolving landscape of technology and education.

For most institutions, Daley says, an ideal CAIO candidate understands that the job will “require a lot of soft influence to move projects forward in partnership with business-line and academic leaders. A strong candidate is one with sufficient technical knowledge and experience to understand the art of the feasible with AI technologies, along with the soft skills required to be an effective peer leader and champion. Experience with the complexity of university governance and approaches to management would be helpful too.”

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While Daley thinks that CAIOs will become more common in higher ed, he also says that creating the role is not enough for transformation.

“For some institutions, it will undoubtedly make more sense to place the AI mandate in an existing portfolio, and for others to lead by committee,” he says. “I don’t think there is an optimal, one-size-fits-all solution. Higher education institutions are massively heterogeneous.”

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