Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Artificial intelligence is a much-discussed buzzword in boardrooms around the world, but a lot of companies are still keeping it at arm's length, fearful that it's too complex and won't pay off fast enough, according to McKinsey Global Institute, a think tank.

Why it matters: In a study released today, McKinsey ferrets out 400 practical current use cases for AI that it says could be worth $3.5 trillion a year in savings and sales.

The background: The backdrop to the MGI study is the workhorse of the industrial age: the steam engine. Businesses in the 1700s, using animals, wind and water for power, did not immediately switch to steam, despite its obvious superiority. The transformation took more than a century, says Carl Frey, director of the Technology and Employment program at Oxford University.

Similarly, McKinsey's Michael Chui, the study's main author, tells Axios that the adoption of AI in the 21st century economy could take a long time. But he cites a lot of non-exotic ways that businesses can lucratively incorporate AI now. Examples are:

  • Forecasting airport congestion and bad weather to reduce costly flight cancellations for airlines.
  • Optimizing cargo routes to reduce fuel costs for product delivery.
  • Better understanding customers to offer more services and increase sales.

But, but, but: If history is a teacher, it is still not clear that companies — even presented with the McKinsey map — will respond quickly. This is because even basic AI can't simply be plugged in and used. A company must have already established a digitized eco-system into which the AI will be integrated, Chui said.

  • A warning about how long adoption may take: the authors themselves note that neural networks — the AI technique at the heart of the report — have been studied "since the 1940s," about three quarters of a century.

Go deeper

Coronavirus cases flat or growing in 48 states

Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon, Sara Wise, Naema Ahmed, Danielle Alberti/Axios

The number of coronavirus cases increased in the vast majority of states over the last week, and decreased in only two states plus the District of Columbia.

Why it matters: This is a grim reminder that no part of the United States is safe from the virus. If states fail to contain their outbreaks, they could soon face exponential spread and overwhelmed health systems.

Updated 3 hours ago - Health

U.S. daily coronavirus cases top 50,000 for first time

A medical technologist processes test samples for the coronavirus at a lab in Tampa, Florida, on June 25. Photo: Octavio Jones/Getty Images

The number of people to test positive for the novel coronavirus in the United States surpassed 50,000 for the first time ever on Wednesday, Johns Hopkins data shows.

Driving the news: The pandemic is accelerating across the U.S., with the Sun Belt being hit particularly hard. Daily coronavirus case records were reported on Wednesday in Texas (8,076), Arizona (4,878), Georgia (2,946), North Carolina (1,843) and Tennessee (1,806).

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden outraises Trump again with record $141 million June haul

Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden at Philadelphia City Hall in Pennsylvania in June. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party raised $141 million in June, his campaign announced on Wednesday night.

Why it matters: It's the most the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee has raised in a month. It's also more than the record $131 million President Trump's re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee raised last month.