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In the realm of artificial intelligence, it’s often best to start small. Investments, over time, can snowball into big rewards.
An ongoing example of this principle comes from DeepMind, a subsidiary of Alphabet, Google’s parent company. It’s working with Unity to train AI systems to take on increasingly challenging tasks. The process starts humbly — training a virtual dog to fetch — but could ultimately lead to algorithms with massive real-world benefits for housing design, self-driving car platforms, and the synthesis of new drugs.
Startups, too, must begin AI efforts at the metaphorical dog-fetching stage so the software can learn over time. Sometimes, however, it’s not clear what steps to take to start the process of AI implementation.
Small Businesses’ Baby Steps
According to research from PwC, AI could increase global GDP by 14 percent, or an astounding $15.7 trillion, by 2030. This is due, in large part, to productivity gains from AI automation and workforce augmentation. A healthy slice of that pie will go to startups that bring new implementations of AI to the global market or make good use of AI solutions to enhance their products or services.
You could start as small as incorporating a simple chatbot into your customer service workflow. Or you could make use of a software-as-a-service provider that already has an AI system to automate your marketing outreach. Another easy entry into AI is to feed off the big fish: Google and Facebook are using AI technology behind the scenes to optimize ad campaigns, and your business can leverage their technology to get more ROI from programmatic advertising.
However you do it, start now. To give you an AI springboard, here are a few simple things you can do to smart small and then scale up.
1. Cast your characters.
The AI future may be more disruptive than we imagine. It’s likely that a hybrid workforce, composed of both human workers and their AI machine colleagues, will be part of the story. In order to prepare for that, make sure you have the right people in place.
That may include onboarding data scientists, robotics engineers, and technical specialists to anticipate that future and make the most of it. You’ll need product managers who can identify a business problem for AI to solve, as well as data engineers who can integrate your business systems into a properly structured database and data warehouse.
The trouble is that this technical talent is in high demand. Despite the skills gap, however, there are places to source talent and tech applications. Last year, PwC found that only 10 percent of businesses were looking to uniquely innovative hotspots like universities and venture capital firms to learn how to apply emerging technology. Universities show promising numbers for the tech tinkerers of the future: At Carnegie Mellon University, for example, graduate-level course enrollment has massively increased for machine learning programs. At the University of California, Berkeley, applications for AI degree programs have doubled in five years.
Top startup Element AI actually shares talent with schools rather than poaches AI experts from academia. Sharing the load this way allows for harmony between research and application; plus, it means neither organization has to shoulder the full burden of employing the industry’s best minds.
2. Re-skill your staff.
Committing to an AI future at your company doesn’t mean replacing your teams. You can and should re-skill your employees, helping them become more comfortable with — and eventually proficient at — working with AI systems.
A recent Accenture study revealed that 97 percent of surveyed CEOs plan to enhance worker capacity through AI; however, only 3 percent also plan to invest in more training and staff re-skilling in the near future.
As a small business leader, you may not have the capacity to assess the AI readiness of your entire staff. But you can certainly encourage AI education in the form of workshops, online training sessions, or part-time degree programs. Andrew Ng, a former AI leader at Google, is launching an “AI for Everyone” online training course through Stanford University. The program, which will be available on Coursera, aims to provide an introduction to machine learning and statistical pattern recognition for businesspeople.
3. Demonstrate daily value.
It’s important to show your team members what AI can do for them. One of the best ways to do this is by using AI to automate time suckers, those irritating administrative tasks that eat up hours and reduce productivity.
Marc Fischer, CEO and co-founder of mobile technology studio Dogtown Media, underscores this point: “Remember that your AI efforts do not have to be overly complicated. The best place to start in terms of automation is manual processes that demand a significant administrative effort. Financial processes, data entry, fraud detection, and customer loyalty are only a few areas in which AI can make a tremendous difference.”
For example, Future Glory, a San Francisco handbag manufacturer, uses integrations across several software platforms to automate financial management, freeing up time for its team to work on the design side of the business.
AI will change the world, but it takes time to implement and train it. By taking steps to build an AI-proficient team, re-skill your current team members, and communicate AI’s purpose, you can join a growing set of companies that will create disruptive innovation in the near future.
December 20, 2018 at 01:09PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs