Michael Rendell was a key participant at The AI Summit in London a few weeks ago. Both a Partner and the lead of Transformation and Innovation at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Michael also chaired the plenary panel at the event to discuss the vital question: ‘What can AI do for business?’
AI Business caught up with Michael to find out his thoughts on the event, as well get his broader outlook on AI from a ‘Big Four’ professional services perspective.

michael rendell pwc

Michael Rendell of PwC

We began by reflecting on The AI Summit. “I thought it was fascinating”, Michael says. “A huge turnout of organisations that illustrates how this has become a mainstream issue; AI is no longer on the horizon, it’s today. It’s clearly something that will evolve dramatically over the next three to five years, and something that will significantly impact businesses around the world. This was powerfully illustrated by the quality of the speakers at The AI Summit and by the amount of people that were there”.


Excited by how far AI has come on a broad scale, Michael moved on to discuss what it means for PwC. “From PwC’s point of view, we firstly need to advise our clients on how technology will impact their businesses, and the change that they need to go through (the positive as well as the negative, worrying changes too). Secondly we need to see how it affects a business like PwC, how it affects the professional services world, how it affects our services and our economic models”.


Since PwC work with clients in so many industry sectors, we asked Michael for his panoramic view of AI’s impact on different industries. “I see it impacting every industry”, he says. “Certainly the more people-intensive, where understanding and knowledge are crucial, will be affected quickly, as well as businesses where there are high degrees of process that lend themselves to automation. Then there are some businesses in the middle that are more about social relationships. But even these will be affected, since human emotion is at the heart of conversation on AI. Maybe those jobs involving creativity that comes only from the random activity of the human brain, such as comedians, will not be influenced”.


So what stands in the way of such widespread adoption of AI? What do businesses need to tackle before moving forward and implementing AI? Michael feels the challenges lie in society – in people’s understanding and acceptance: “the impact of AI is profound, but it’s not always obvious”, he says. “So just understanding the sheer complexity of the change is very important, and understanding how knowledge gets democratised as a consequence of this change. Google Search made knowledge available to everybody – when you throw AI into the mix, you really change your relationship with experts, and start to think about the true value that the expert brings”.


While he believes the future is difficult to predict, Michael points out that we are already on the way to universal awareness. “Some would argue we’re already talking about it – think about Siri, AI driver aids. It is starting to come into everyday life. Will anyone believe it until we have robots walking around? Possibly not, but this isn’t something for five years’ time – we’re in the middle of the revolution now”.


We discuss applications of AI in the enterprise, and particularly law firm BakerHostetler’s recent partnership with Ross Intelligence and their IBM Watson-powered platform. “PwC are absolutely in that space”, Michael says.


As for the long-term future, Michael sees AI play a vital part at PwC: “It will be involved in augmenting many if not most of our areas of activity, no question, and it will be part and parcel of the professional services of the future. It will become part of firm’s DNA.”


We spoke to Michael after he took part in the inaugural AI Summit in London on 5 May together with over 400 other influential AI and business leaders. The second, larger AI Summit takes place in San Francisco on 28-29 September. To find out more, and to join us at the Fort Mason Center in September, visit: theaisummit.com


AI Summit San Fran print screen


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Feature image credit: http://pwc.blogs.com/press_room/PwC-More-London-1.jpg