There’s a good chance that you’ve heard or read about artificial intelligence in 2023. Advancements made in the space, particularly through the work of OpenAI and their ChatGPT product have seemed to fast-track conversations - and concerns - about the role of AI in the business world. The exponential growth of AI over the next few years is likely going to transform many parts of our lives. While there’s plenty of discussion around the ethical and legal aspects of AI integration, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which artificial intelligence doesn’t play a big role in how businesses of all types operate in the future.
So, what is AI exactly?
Artificial intelligence is the field of computer science that relates to systems that can perform tasks that typically require human intelligence, reasoning or recognition. These systems can come in a variety of forms including robotics, chatbots, software and algorithms. Artificial intelligence, despite getting a spike in interest recently, is an area with decades of research and theory behind it. And then there’s the many science fiction books and movies that have all played a part in AI’s story.
But AI’s trajectory goes well beyond what a human being is capable of - the potential of technology to process huge amounts of information quickly has already been demonstrated through tools like ChatGPT and the integration of AI into code, image, sound, video and databases.
Types of common AI
Artificial intelligence is an umbrella term, under which many sub-areas of the field belong. This includes machine learning, which pertains to the training of systems to make decisions or predictions based on data provided to it. With machine learning, a system can become progressively more effective as it ‘learns’ patterns and relationships in the data provided to it.
AI also exists within robotics, where machines are able to operate autonomously using sensors and detection to the environment they exist within to make accurate movements and completion of tasks.
Also important to note is ‘natural language processing’, whereby AI is taught how to understand and communicate like a human. There have been significant advancements in this area, with ChatGPT being a good example of this. The benefit of AI communicating with and understanding humans better is that the power of AI is made more accessible to more people - not just those with programming skills.
Some potential use cases of AI for Kiwi businesses
Should businesses be thinking about AI? We think that it’s absolutely necessary to have an eye on the development of AI in your industry, even if there’s no immediate impact of technology that’s a fit for you right now. It’s worth remembering that the real power of artificial intelligence is still to be realised. Here’s some possible use cases of AI in business:
Scanning a spreadsheet of data and finding patterns and trends, such as specific products that are delivering the best performance for the company, or forecasting future sales based on seasonality and historical data.
Optimise a supply chain based on detailed SKU/product analysis, including when to reorder, when to run specials, estimate shipping times and areas the business can save.
Chatbots - you may have interacted with chatbots for a while, but the power of these has recently become far more aligned with a human being than the older variants that had a fairly limited set of possible responses. Chatbots can help cater to customer questions without necessarily needing a human - although a good Chatbot will be able to defer complicated issues to a real person.
With the power of OpenAI’s ChatGPT, AI can be used to take your own questions or raw information and convert it into something more effective - such as editing an email message. Be careful to not share any sensitive information with these tools, though - there’s still too much to learn about how information is used and stored.
Whether you’re working in finance, on the building site or cutting hair, we can all probably agree that life has more admin that we’d probably like. Artificial intelligence’s ability to process information and perform tasks almost immediately make it a natural companion for cutting down the admin time.
AI exists within thousands of tools and software's available and in the near future. These tools can help admin tasks like:
Time and task management
Automatically suggest responses to email
Manage and sort documents
Scan and log details of invoices and reconcile these against bank transactions
These tools aren’t replacements for people of course - but they can help you and your people get the job done smarter (not harder).
Clean and structure business data
Spreadsheets and repositories of business data have been analysed by machine learning and AI tools for some time now. As AI becomes more accessible to more people, we expect businesses to use this technology to better understand and maintain their data.
Imagine you have a 3,000 product business but need a way to sort them into categories that make sense to users browsing through a website. The power of AI can allow this data to be scanned and categorised in as many different ways as the product information allows. To do this without automation could take weeks to complete. The output might not be perfect, but AI can make a giant admin project simply a quality control task.
Similarly, there might be a dataset with incomplete or muddled data. With the right prompt and available data, an AI process could quickly clean up and identify gaps to be addressed within mere moments.
Streamline and edit comms
Communication is one of those areas where we’d suggest businesses be careful - relying on computers too heavily to connect with your customers and your business can lose that personal touch. With that said, we already have examples of AI in our written communications with auto-completion suggestions when we draft an email in certain platforms.
And while there’s no replacement for genuine, human interactions with your customers, AI can help you refine a written message that you may be struggling to compose properly. A lot of the quality you’ll get back is down to the ‘prompt’ you provide the tool you’re using. These tools are far from perfect, but we expect they will get better over time.
Challenges with AI
Artificial intelligence is getting plenty of PR at the moment, and a lot of it isn’t positive. There’s good reason for this - genuine concerns over the pace at which AI models and tools are being developed and the amount of information being fed into them has raised the alarm bells for many experts in the industry.
Here are some of the possible barriers and challenges with AI:
Cost of implementing - while there are open source solutions, many of the industry-specific solutions come with a cost and require experts to embed it into your business.
Not enough support for ongoing maintenance - with over half a million small businesses in New Zealand and a well-documented shortage of IT talent, getting access to an AI expert might be difficult for guidance with this technology.
Security of information - there have been some pretty high profile data breaches and cyber attacks in this part of the world recently, and third party AI tools that gather and store data could potentially be a future target of cyber crime. There’s also real ambiguity around how inputs are used by AI tools.
Ethics - how quickly will society lean on AI and risk putting people out of jobs? And how confident are we that AI’s biases and inaccuracies wont' result in poor decision making? Broadly speaking there are regulations and principles that still need to be worked through before this technology can truly integrate into all parts of our lives safely.
What does AI mean for my industry?
Almost every day there are new interesting insights about AI advancements. If you’re keen to learn more about how it might impact your industry, we’d suggest using online resources like search engines, technology news and even social media with an appropriately critical eye and the right search terms.
The ideal incorporation of AI to the workforce is as a companion that helps us do our jobs better to free us up to use our skills in new ways. Even if you don’t actively look to find AI tools to embed into your business, many of the standard tools and systems you use will increasingly become more AI-powered. It’s an exciting - albeit sometimes a bit scary time for technology in business.
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