Apr 26, 2023 - Economy

PwC US plans $1 billion AI investment

Illustration of a brain made out of glowing lines and nodules composed of quarters.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

PwC US plans to devote $1 billion over the next three years to AI projects for both its clients and its own operations, including upskilling its 65,000 workers.

Why it matters: Companies are grappling with the best way to use AI to improve their businesses.

  • OpenAI's ChatGPT product has shifted moods within tech and many different sectors dramatically over the last few months — ranging from euphoria over increased innovation, to worry about job loss.
  • And while tech giants are racing one another, there's also widespread concern from other sectors about protecting proprietary information (think code and customer information) when using tools like generative AI.

Part of PwC's plans involve partnering with Microsoft and using its Azure OpenAI platform to build products and technologies.

  • The partnership "will allow us to teach models in our controlled environment, not in the public space," a concern that a lot of clients have, Joe Atkinson, PwC's chief products and technology officer, tells Axios in an interview ahead of Wednesday's announcement.

Details: Azure OpenAI's services now include ChatGPT/GPT-4, a more powerful update of OpenAI's text generator engine.

  • Tools and ideas that come out of PwC's investment are expected to range from embedded AI enhancements, to more visible applications similar to ChatGPTGPT.

Meanwhile, PwC is also focused on building AI tools with greater data and decision transparency to ensure technology "properly considers human factors" — key to gaining trust of AI, Atkinson says.

The big picture: About 25% to 50% of workloads "can be replaced" by AI for U.S. workers that will see an impact to their jobs, Goldman Sachs economists recently wrote.

  • "The combination of significant labor cost savings, new job creation, and a productivity boost for non-displaced workers raises the possibility of a labor productivity boom like those that followed the emergence of earlier general-purpose technologies like the electric motor and personal computer."

Our thought bubble: PwC is privately owned so it doesn't necessarily need to make announcements like this to excite short-term investors.

  • But as one of the largest professional services and consulting firms in the world, it likely wants to signal that its entire company is serious about AI as competition for AI expertise heats up.

The bottom line: The pace of AI's changes to jobs can be "jarring," says Atkinson.

  • "Will there be jobs that are going to be impacted completely by generative AI? I fully expect that there will be."
  • "[I]t's one of the reasons we are pressing so hard on both responsible use and on upskilling — because we believe that the best way to protect people's jobs is to train them for the reality that they're in. And the reality we're all in is a reality that has generative AI impacting — we believe — just about every aspect of the way business gets done."

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