AI is the new great disruption of our time

We are reaching an inflection point for society and business. There is a lot of hype around AI, as is often in the tech industry (remember the VR hype anyone?), but if you look a little deeper the signs of great change are here.

We are reaching an inflection point for society and business. There is a lot of hype around AI, as is often in the tech industry (remember the VR hype anyone?), but if you look a little deeper the signs of great change are here.

One of the keys things I have noticed is the anxiety and fear about AI that is fairly widespread which is similar to the fear of the “doomsday” Y2k bug. Now while we know the Y2k bug came to nothing, I don’t expect the same will be true for AI. 

Having watched AI unfold over the last few years and accelerate in the last few months, some of these fears lend credibility to the hype. Investment is accelerating, governments are taking notice, Italy temporarily banned ChatGPT, and new capabilities are being released almost daily. 

My prediction: AI is going to lead to the largest disruption since the industrial revolution.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Anyone who has seen the Microsoft co-pilot demo or Adobe Firefly can see the power that these new AI capabilities can deliver, and if you haven’t seen the co-pilot demo, go watch it! The integration of AI capabilities into Microsoft and Google tools will only accelerate adoption and is just the beginning. 

The question is, what should businesses be doing now to prepare for the disruption and embrace the potential that this can bring to your business? 

Explore The Opportunity  

AI is coming for knowledge work. A recent study in the US showed that 2/3rds of knowledge worker jobs will be impacted by AI in the next 24 months. AI has the potential to know everything about your business and act on that information. As an example, AI will be able to interact with your customers through chat or voice, develop marketing content at a 1:1 customer level to drive revenue and retention, design and create products and services offers and imagery, manage customer service and report on progress. There is an opportunity here to provide a better, more consistent customer experience with fewer workers supporting it. Businesses will be able to provide a much better customer experience with a fraction of the employees they currently employ.

There is no future where generative AI is not involved at a deep level in the operations of your business if you want to stay competitive.

There is huge opportunity to reduce costs but you need to…

Prepare For The Huge Human Impact Coming

The ability for business people to adapt the way they work and use AI in their everyday work patterns is unknown. Learning to create chatGPT prompts to write your email is one thing, but what if AI is chairing meetings for you, writing up minutes, holding people to account for what they agreed in the last meeting and actioning items? Microsoft Co-pilot will deliver this functionality soon. 

Can the current workforce adapt to this? Would everyone be comfortable working in this way? Where does the control lie? 

I can foresee an environment in the future where there are people who embrace AI and massively increase productivity, and others that do not and fall behind or put barriers in the way. This is not going to be an easy cultural change to manage.

Another key question is, If AI is integrated into meetings, communications and processes, how can you be sure that it is treating all employees fairly or appropriately? What biases has it been trained on that it is perpetuating? 

What are all the knowledge workers in your business going to do now their job is obsolete? The brutal economic answer is that they get let go – then what for them?

Leaders need to start thinking about their people and how to prepare them for the change coming – AI will impact every area of the business.

Avoid The Legal Pitfalls

OpenAI is under a lot of legal pressure, as are stability ai, for potential breaches of copyright. These AI tools have been trained on publicly available data, much of which is under copyright. The novelty of the technology is testing law makers and they are responding.

Another key factor is that AI generated content cannot currently (April 2023) be copyrighted under US law because it is not human generated. 

This means that, currently (April 2023), any images or text created by these tools is not owned by anyone and can be copied by anyone. This is potentially problematic if you are integrating AI outputs into your business processes. If you are looking to use AI technologies, get legal advice to limit your risk of exposure.

Keep Your Secret Sauce Secret

AI Tools learn from the input it is given. If you ask it to do specific things for your business based on confidential information, it may use this information to assist other organisations or competitors as the information is added to its memory. Develop policies and guidelines for your teams when using AI to reduce the risk of exposing your company data.

The tech industry is rapidly moving to foundational tools that can then be owned by your business and be trained on your data to carry out tasks based on their knowledge or your business. AI can be trained on your proprietary data that is private to you and you can see the benefits of AI. It could be a important differentiator for your business. But you must keep your knowledge outside the public domain or other AI may use your knowledge to assist competitors.

Get Your Tech, Data And Processes Ready

The emerging AI tools we are seeing are only as useful as the data that the tools are trained on and the availability of the AI in business processes.  If a business was to leverage AI, the AI would need have access to that businesses data so it can build a model it can understand and use. The more AI knows about an organisation, the more value it can bring.  

Leveraging AI well requires you to know your business well:

  • Having a rich knowledge of your customers and their interactions with you will allow AI to provide a better customer experience. Customer data is critical to this.
  • Having your processes documented and measured is key for AI to learn how your business works and what good looks like.
  • Having clear accountabilities in your business that your AI can use to avoid over-reach.

Your existing systems need to be able to interact with your AI. Many vendors are accelerating AI integration and capability design into their products, however with emerging autonomous AI agents appearing, such as AutoGPT or SuperAGI, this may not be a barrier to adoption in the future.

 

The benefits are there – but so are the Risks

Generally speaking, businesses that can solve for the key points above are likely to see a number of benefits, depending on their industry:

  • Increased customer engagement and retention through consistent and informed personalised communication, customer service and customer experience
  • Greater access to insights and information to inform decision making
  • More efficient operations, smaller workforce
  • Increased accountability of leadership, as decisions will be actioned much more quickly and outcomes of decisions will be more visible

There are undeniably significant risks though. Businesses adopting AI are also at risk of the following:

  • Reduced employee engagement through disruption, change and productivity being transferred from humans to AI.
  • Business risk in handing over key processes to AI – things will go wrong, AI doesn’t always get it right. Quite often it can get things very wrong.
  • Reduction of knowledge in a business of how thing work across the workforce
  • Increased costs through being tied into a specific AI provider
  • Company information being spread to benefit competitors
  • Legal problems

AI is coming, and leaders of all businesses need to face into it and learn as much as possible to help them navigate the change. My recommendation is to build awareness in your leadership teams of the current and near-future capabilities of AI, its use cases and its risks. Some questions leaders should ask themselves are:

  • Where can I leverage AI in my business now that provides business benefit without causing massive disruption?
  • How can I prepare my workforce for the change that is coming? What do our leaders need to know and do now?
  • How do I protect my business from competitors whilst leveraging AI?
  • What untapped value and opportunity exists in my business that AI could unlock?

 

If you need help preparing for AI, our AI for business leaders course on Udemy helps leaders prepare themselves for the coming disruption.

Disclaimer: This blog post was not written by AI

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