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Everything Business Owners Need to Know About AI

Everything Business Owners Need to Know About AI

Technology has been moving fast over the last few years… or has it? 

It depends on who you ask, and how they interact with it every day. This post is for those of us who are frankly too busy to really dive into the waters of cutting-edge technology, but want to make sure we’re not leaving money on the table when it comes to operating our businesses.

AI is here. It’s no longer a futuristic concept, and it is transformative. At the same time, it’s also a little bit of a marketing buzzword. Let’s clear up this very complex topic—hopefully by the end of this article, you’ll be able to make some actionable decisions on AI and your business.

There are No Bad Questions—What is AI?

Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is a type of software that is designed to mimic human intelligence and creativity. Forget what science fiction movies portray, forget R2-D2, and think of it more like Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, but with a substantially larger set of skills.

Even by that definition, we’re giving AI a characteristic that it doesn’t always have; so I’ll break down the technical side of AI as simply as possible.

Let’s say you have a computer that is programmed to “learn.” 

You give that computer a large amount of information, say, the encyclopedia. It quickly reads every volume of the encyclopedia, and internally, in its own “mind,” it’s allowed to make connections to what it reads. It reads that the Aardvark has a long sticky tongue and eats ants. 

A few chapters later it reads that the Anteater also has a long sticky tongue and eats ants.

The AI forms a connection between the two concepts, and every other piece of information it reads gets filed, sorted, organized, connected, and compared across this massive web of information that ends up being hundreds of times more complex than the subject material it was asked to read.

It takes a huge amount of data, and turns it into a massive matrix of information that it can then use to find patterns, answer questions, and develop conclusions for.

You might say, “That’s kind of neat, but it’s also sort of something we’ve been using every day for a very long time; Google. Right?”

And you are not wrong.

This concept that we call AI has had another name for a long time; it’s called machine learning, and it’s exactly that—you feed a computer a huge amount of data and it is able to find patterns and make connections quickly, and use algorithms to provide responses. 

I’m oversimplifying things, but this is something that makes AI sort of a buzzword, or an excuse to start charging more for a product because it has AI in it now. It’s not really this incredible new technology; it’s something that has evolved over time.

AI enthusiasts will get very upset with this comparison, but for the rest of us, a good way to think about it is by looking at Netflix (or any streaming service).

If you watch enough Netflix, Netflix gets pretty good at determining what sort of things you’ll like, and it will suggest things that other people who like what you like tend to watch. It takes all this raw data, and makes connections to intelligently suggest new content for you.

And it makes Netflix a lot of money. It gets Netflix users to spend a lot more time watching content, and staying subscribed to the service. It tells Netflix what kinds of ads to run, what sort of content to promote, and even likely contributes to major spending decisions.

There’s power in data, and AI is the tool that takes massive amounts of data and turns it into something useful (ideally).

Before we move on, just to explain one more thing, most of these big AI services like ChatGPT and Microsoft Copilot aren’t just fed something small like an encyclopedia. ChatGPT has been reading and learning from most of the Internet. We’re talking about social media sites, Reddit posts, blogs, gossip columns, and everything else in between. While there is a lot of great information on the Internet, there is also a lot of fluff. This is one of AI’s biggest weaknesses, and it’s only going to get worse (more on that later).

Okay, So How Can My Business Use AI to Make Tons of Money?

That’s the million-dollar AI question, right?

Well, we asked ChatGPT those very questions, and here’s what we got:

Business owners can leverage AI to analyze data for personalized marketing, optimize operations, and enhance customer service, ultimately driving increased sales, efficiency, and profitability.

That was pretty vague, so we asked it to give us a longer answer, and it did. It said things like optimizing operations, automating repetitive tasks, streamlining workflows, and using chatbots for customer service. It also said that a business owner could use AI to analyze customer behavior and preferences to optimize pricing. 

These are all in the realm of feasibility, but the answers are extremely generic. It sounds good as a proposal, but is lacking when it comes to the execution. Sure, I can drill in and keep asking it for specifics, but after a while it’s just going to loop back around on me. These large language model (LLM) AI tools are big talkers, and can be useful, but they aren’t big do-ers. A good employee could utilize them to save time writing responses, organizing information on a spreadsheet, or getting help with simple tasks that would take a little longer to do with mere Google searches. 

It probably sounds like we’re really showcasing AI as a novelty, and to those who don’t spend the time and effort to adopt it carefully, that’s all it will be. AI is a very complex tool, and with it comes a huge learning curve, cybersecurity concerns, and new types of technological roadblocks, just like any novel technology. If you are willing to put in the time and effort, however, there is so much it can give your organization.

Real-Life Examples of Great AI Execution

Live Chat - Nobody wants to talk to a robot, and automated live chat solutions have been around for a long time now. Newer AI-powered solutions do offer a slightly better experience, but where they can really shine is when you take the time to train your own AI solution. This can take time; likely as much time if not more to train a human employee to take on the same task. What you get from it, however, is a 24/7 customer representative on your website that can handle the brunt of requests and then loop in a human being if it gets stuck.

Business Intelligence - Your business likely produces a lot of data, from your analytics to response times to which projects were over or under budget. Business Intelligence software like Microsoft’s Power BI was already designed to help business owners find ways to make production more efficient, and with AI built into these tools, they’ve only become faster and more effective at it.

Cybersecurity - We’re going to bring this topic up again, but in the fight against cybercriminals, AI is actually a really valuable tool. AI-based cybersecurity tools can respond to threats faster and more effectively, leading to fewer risks entering your network. And, like most small business AI solutions, this isn’t something you are responsible for figuring out and putting together—modern cybersecurity software simply uses artificial intelligence now. This is where AI is sort of a buzzword, but at the same time, it does make the solution more capable.

Image Manipulation - There is always going to be a debate about AI-generated art, but those who use Adobe Photoshop to touch up or manipulate images, they seem to have a pretty smart way to handle this touchy subject. Adobe owns a library of millions of images that they sell. Their AI tools allegedly only source from these images. If you ask Photoshop to replace a background with a gorgeous sunset, it’s only pulling sunset imagery from its massive stock photo library.

These are just a few examples, and while there are a whole lot of use cases for AI, I think it’s a good time to switch gears and talk about the negative use cases for AI.

Overwhelmingly, AI is Being Used for Nefarious Purposes

Like any novel technology these days, the bad guys are going to get to it first and figure out what it can do to help them out. Let’s talk about a few of the dangerous use cases for AI.

Phishing Attacks and Scams - Phishing attacks and email scams are on the rise thanks to artificial intelligence. Cybercriminals across the world can quickly write convincing emails, use AI to impersonate others with shockingly convincing videos and images, and overwhelm victims with finely-tuned tactics that cause a lot of harm to both individuals and businesses. 

Malware and Vulnerabilities - AI tools can be used to find and exploit vulnerabilities in software, create and distribute malware, and make smarter, more dangerous online threats. Modern security solutions, as mentioned before, have had to adopt AI simply to combat threats that are bolstered by AI. 

Bots and the Dead Internet - This one might take a little explaining. If you use social media, especially X/Twitter, you are probably familiar with social media bots. These accounts aren’t real people, but instead automation. Some are obvious and often pornographic in nature, and others are essentially little content farms, sharing a constant stream of viral, time-wasting content in the form of images and videos. This content gets a ton of bot traffic of its own, with bots in the comments, responding in ways that barely make any sense. This is called the “Dead Internet,” and it’s an idea that large portions of the internet don’t have humans, but instead just have these automated bots talking to each other. It sounds harmless, but AI tools and Google and tons of other services use customer information to provide their services, so this weird bot army just sort of pollutes the Internet with garbage. It wastes time, disconnects humans from other humans, and is generally just a nuisance. 

AI, Great Innovation or Grift?

This new technology isn’t going to go away. It has become a booming industry valued at half a trillion dollars, and has countless legitimate use cases, as well as an unending number of threatening use cases. We all have to accept that we’re living in a world with it, and understand that it’s not a scary technology—like any new emerging technology these days, the grifters seem to get good at using it first.

That’s why it’s more important than ever to make sure your business (and your employees) are capable of withstanding cyberthreats, scams, and other attacks. At the same time, your business can utilize AI to improve efficiencies, automate tasks, and get better insights in real time. 

It all starts with making sure your business has its basics in order, and then establishing a technology roadmap for carefully implementing new technologies without breaking the bank or falling out of compliance.

That’s where Capstone Works comes in. We help Austin-based businesses get more from their technology, and we bake cybersecurity into everything we do. To get started, give us a call at (512) 343-8891.

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