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Why small business should not fear AI, but embrace it

When the words artificial intelligence are floated about many of us instantly think of self-aware and highly intelligent machines intent on the destruction of the human race, not small business advantages.

Of course, these fears are propelled when scientists such as Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk also raise concerns about AI and the risks it poses to humanity.

While there genuinely is something frightening about sentient computers, this has little to do with how AI is actually developing today or how it can be used to benefit our economy.

The algorithms that enable applications such as Google and Siri to appear as though they have intelligence are in fact important stepping stones on the road to AI helping businesses improve efficiencies and process.

These programs are examples of computers using algorithms to learn from and make predictions on data. Today AI applications such as the above are so integrated into our everyday lives, they feel as though they are a typical piece of technology to use, not a daunting science experiment.

However, it is the introduction of such applications that has revealed how relevant and important AI is to small business progression. They show that there is potential to benefit greatly from the insights that can be gained from applying a layer of intelligence to the analysis of one’s own data.

AI enables us to detect patterns that humans are not able to, meaning it is an opportunity to reveal issues not previously known or uncover new ways to solve old problems.

As a small business operator, it’s easy to feel like the use of AI is limited to companies with big customer bases and even bigger budgets, but this simply isn’t true. There are a number of inexpensive, smart ways small businesses can automate and improve their processes by taking advantage of AI driven programs.

This is because the reality is that AI is already built into many of the systems organisations use today.

The smarts behind voice recognition, translation, or transcription services are all based on artificial intelligence. These applications make use of artificial neural networks which are able to learn on their own and make sense of information from a variety of sources.

AI-based voice recognition applications can in effect “understand” a range of words and instructions, and improve their understanding over time to become more accurate. They do not need to be programmed to recognise each word or phrase, but can learn to understand any combination of words and phrases.

Enterprise search engines also employ AI. Using semantic networks, these applications can establish links between related keywords to deliver search results rather than rely just on an index of words. This makes it possible to even find misspelt words or to look for patterns where a series of words is found.

Meanwhile companies such as Amazon, Netflix, and Pandora also use AI-powered analytics to detect patterns in what people buy, view or listen and create suggestions based on what they learn.

And only last month Twitter acquired Whetlab, a startup focused on machine learning technology. It’s believed the move will assist the company with surfacing more relevant tweets for its users or for potentially improving their targeted ads.

More specifically, AI can be used to fine-tune marketing, recruitment, and customer relations processes. AI analysis presents tangible insights into stakeholder behaviours and decision making processes to reveal detailed patterns of how we buy, browse, question, and decide.

While all insights should be treated as hypothesis, the knowledge that this activity generates can be hugely liberating. It’s with this and other evidence such as sales figures or feedback that small businesses can start to intelligently tailor their spend, channels, and efforts to ensure that their initiatives better reach and meet the needs of their audiences.

Further, this potential transcends all industries from logistics, to human resources and sales. Using manual processing by people to perform this kind of analysis simply isn’t possible as it would take too long to deliver actionable results.

By using AI in business intelligence or analysis, organisations can reveal opportunities to think differently generating new solutions for business growth.

It’s also worth noting that the much of the application in artificial intelligence in business is highly unlikely to ever lead to the development of self-aware or sentient computers.

And although the computational power of the best supercomputers is almost at a point of matching the processing power of the human brain, adding human-level intelligence to that power is still some time off, so we can all rest easily tonight.

About the Author:

Bruce Aylward is CEO of project management software firm Psoda.

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