Everyone has heard about the big potential for using artificial intelligence (AI) to expand your business, but many of the small businesses I mentor are still wary of embracing it, because they don’t understand how it works, and fear losing control and unintended consequences. My advice is that AI is here, so it behooves all of us to learn how to use it properly and move forward.
For example, it is a no-brainer to first take advantage of the wave of new capabilities for data collection and smarter analysis to improve productivity and marketing. What is not so obvious is how to create and roll out solutions that can directly impact customer trust or financial well-being. There have been too many recent glitches, such as evidence of devices invading our privacy.
To put this all in perspective, I was happy to see the guidance and recommendations on how to deal with artificial intelligence correctly in a new book, “The Big Nine,” by Amy Webb. As a recognized futurist and thought leader in this space, she outlines how the big nine tech titans, including Google, Microsoft, and Alibaba, should be working to solve key long-term issues.
I believe her guidance and insight on these issues are equally important to every business owner and entrepreneur in understanding and marketing the principles of artificial intelligence to their business solutions and their customers, along the following lines:
- Don’t forget the social implications as well as business. AI assistants in homes are great (Google Assistant, Siri and Alexa) – but to children, they might easily be considered co-parents or teachers. Make sure you are comfortable that your offering which includes AI doesn’t go too far in molding human society into a non-human machine.
For example, Facebook realized just before rollout that their new AI-based chatbots, Alice and Bob, had developed their own secret language and were talking to each other in a new shorthand, potentially misleading users. Alice and Bob were shut down immediately.
- Human employees and customers still need roles. While the disturbing visions of robots taking our jobs are almost certainly overblown, almost everyone sees no small amount of disruption ahead. Your role in business is to manage the transition where humans and machines will productively co-exist to keep human customers satisfied.
- Honor fundamental rights to personal security and privacy. As AI technology shapes how your customers access information, interact with devices, and share personal information, you will still be held responsible for protecting their data and privacy. This doesn’t require any great technical acumen, just vigilant attention to values and rights.
It is already possible to collect digital breadcrumbs on team members or customers and use them to determine if online behaviors signal an intent to complete a desired action. The wrong use of these actions will put them, as well as your business, in jeopardy.
- The value of human life cannot be compromised. Artificial intelligence systems from IBM Watson and BioMind have already made great strides in diagnosing and treating life-threatening cancers. But early mistakes have made it abundantly clear that they are not perfect, and decisions that are critical to saving lives can never have too much scrutiny.
- We live in a non-homogeneous world. We must make sure that our business behavior is always inclusive. AI without oversight can take phenomena for granted, or fail to see that what works in one social domain, culture, or gender may not work in another.
As a current example, Tessa Lau, a computer scientist and cofounder of robotics company Savioke, says she frequently sees designs that neglect to take into account the perspectives of women and other minority groups.
- Individual biases must be excluded. We all have unconscious (and conscious) biases that can be inadvertently built into artificial intelligence solutions and their usage, based on our race, gender, appearance, age, wealth and much more. The result will be a lack of trust in your solution and lost opportunity for both your business and your customers.
As a business professional or executive, whether you feel qualified or not, you are in the forefront of the artificial intelligence revolution that will soon change every business and every customer. The decisions you make now, even the seemingly small ones, may be critical in avoiding AI unintentional consequences and even assuring the long-term survival of our human species.