THE SMALL BUSINESS GUIDE TO AI - Artificial Intelligence (PART 1)

Or, The Hitchhikers Guide to Artificial Intelligence for Small Businesses.

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AI or Artificial Intelligence is everywhere; all over the news, the papers, social media, whatever our information gathering platform of choice it is there.

Within my industry mainly excitement, outside mainly fear, but there is one thing for certain it is coming. So how do we not only prepare but show our clients and customers we are a forward thinking, future embracing business?

It is most probable that we are all using some form of AI or Ai-Lite in our day to day activities already, for example anything connected to the internet is considered ‘smart’ and to be honest I find my heating controller pretty smart, my dishwasher a great friend and my washing machine a good worker. Each have some form of programming to carry out a few tasks at set times in a variety of ways, and what I would really like to add to this list is a robot hoover, robot mop, and robot fish tank cleaner (even though our current fish status is nil - it’s worth being prepared). All is readily available on the high street  and it is worth noting none of them have as yet tried to take over the world.

So, it isn’t when are they coming but when should I embrace what is already here and sitting inside my home and even closer to home... my pocket.

So let’s start with a list of current different types of Artificial Intelligence

  1. SMART (Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology)
    A smart acronym! And there I was thinking it was just because these little chaps were indeed smart! This type of SMART is just the ability for a computer to diagnose and report errors. However now SMART has been hijacked to mean anything that uses new technology to gather data, make decisions and communicate, such as the emergence of ‘smart buildings’ creating an autonomous ergonomically better place to live or wok, and talk of whole ‘smart cities’, not forgetting ‘smart cars’ to get around.

  2. Contactless payment
    Contactless payment systems are credit and debit cards, key fobs, smart cards, smartphones and other devices that use radio-frequency identification (RFID) or near field communication (NFC) to make secure contactless payments.

  3. Blockchain and cryptocurrency
    I don’t need to explain this as there has been so much on Bitcoins in the press of late, but it is the blockchain part that is really exciting and enables especially the finance industry to take a giant step forward - or perhaps disruptors to the finance industry to take a giant leap forward. Blockchain is similar to the way online transactions are carried out by banks and other secure institutions with encryption, authorisation and authority but there is one unique difference and that is that the authoriser is not one ‘trusted 3rd party’ (such as a bank) but a whole network. This means that the authorisation of the transaction is not controlled or owned by any one institution, thus creating supposedly a more level playing field - but it is by its very nature currently unregulated.

  4. Machine learning
    This is a smart computer program or app that doesn't just do what it was programmed to do but learns, predicts and reacts differently to the information its is given be this in the form of databases or human interaction.

  5. Smart robots
    These are physical bots that are programed to help with certain tasks such as car manufacture, warehouse fulfilment or house cleaning, augmented with machine learning they quite simply learn as they go along.

  6. Chat bots
    Are computer programs set up to have a conversation with a human, this may be via IM (instant message) or Audio like on automated phone systems. Initially given a bad rap chatbots are getting far more sophisticated and therefore more widely used, losing their ‘frustration’’ label of the recent past. This form of AI is incredibly useful on customer service facing touch points, especially where, in a global world, businesses want to be seen as ‘open all hours’. Setting up chat bots are not as hard as you think. Facebook offer a simple program to set up useful customer service helpers via their instant messenger app.

  7. Virtual Assistants
    These go a step further than chatbots and act as your PA like Amy from who will take over the role you lost when secretaries went out of fashion. In my mind this is what we all assumed computers would do when we first migrated to them, but instead it was the same tasks... but on a screen. Amy now thinks for herself and plans our day from if we are free for a meeting to how we get there, purchasing and booking what we need along the way.

    Other virtual assistants, are Alexa, who well makes things smoother in our homes, Watson from IBM who Is used in the banking word to talk you thought setting up an account, broker a transaction and so forth - probably best known for beating the winners at Jeopardy back in 2011 - Google Home and so on.

  8. And finally AI (Artificial Intelligence) itself
    AI for real is still quite underdeveloped, shown by the race for driverless cars. AI takes machine learning, and therefore all the points above one step further and actually thinks for itself, mimicking human behavior and the end goal is perhaps to become sentient. It starts with big data, mapping and sensor input and then uses algorithms to learn from situations, not just its situations but the pooled learnings from all of its kind (cue science fiction genre fear). But less comically the real and powerful uses of AI is in military and the well needed ‘moral laws’ to govern this new smart technology can’t come soon enough.

Our imagination can run wild with AI and ‘the unknown’ - throughout history there is the very real effect of machines replacing jobs. Which is where our mindset needs to change and businesses need to start adapting now, not to replace human jobs but to augment jobs

to mean that humans are working ‘smarter’, more fulfilling positions using machines for the the dangerous, repetitive, research or information based jobs. Freeing up their time to study this work and finer more detail, deeper insight, more time for human care, innovation  and so forth. We should be striving to make the world a better place, not a cheaper place.

The trick is to know how to train our children and get them ready for these as yet unknown positions. And we can do this by starting to think, prepare and embrace this new technology wave in our own businesses.

Coming Next Week.....

Next week, I will explain how to audit what we have and discover where AI may improve the processes; and ultimately the wellbeing and bottom line of a small business.


I am a freelance UX Consultant, Website Designer, Logo Designer and Graphic Designer based in Woodbridge, Suffolk. Contact me for more information.