We’re no strangers to talking about artificial intelligence. It’s been a somewhat regular topic on our blog and in our newsletters. AI is interesting—it’s sort of this odd technology that for many years, the average person didn’t know what to do with it. Now, it feels like AI is the dominating new technology of the year. What happened? Will it stick? Can a business take advantage of it?
What is AI?
Forget what Hollywood has taught you. Artificial intelligence isn’t a sentient robot that thinks and feels and has emotion, although in some cases it’s pretty good at making you think it is. We’ll touch on that in a bit, it’s weird and interesting. The point is, as of right now and for the foreseeable future, AI isn’t going to lead to robots that look like Arnold Schwarzenegger taking over the world. AI is going to change the world, and it is going to be disruptive, but you probably don’t need to unplug your smart appliances at night.
Artificial intelligence, as of right now, is essentially machine learning. In the simplest terms, developers feed some software a ton of information, allow the software to learn and index the information, and then let the software reach conclusions based on this huge swath of information.
It’s nothing new—most people use this type of AI every single day. Autocorrect is a perfect example of this. Autocorrect is good at fixing your typing blunders because it has plenty of experience watching millions of people accidentally tap out the word “neeting” and correcting it to “meeting.” Google search is completely automated; no human plays a role in dictating what sites show up when you search for things, and it’s been that way for over a decade. Essentially this automation is due to machine learning which is, more or less, the fundamental makings of modern AI.
If you have Alexa or Google Home devices, you’ve experienced AI firsthand. These virtual assistants are powered by artificial intelligence and use machine learning based on all of the data they have access to. They are highly specialized—Alexa is essentially built around Amazon services to help you add products to your cart, but there are countless other features that make it useful around the home, like controlling your smart lights, playing music, sending messages to others, and providing answers to simple questions.
As New Jersey’s go-to technology leader, I’ve had to explain a couple of times that AI isn’t really something your business can just get or install. It’s something that you develop over time, and it costs millions of dollars and a lot of talented programmers. However, depending on your industry, it’s pretty likely that there are AI-fueled tools available to you. Some of the more modern developments in artificial intelligence are making this technology even more accessible for the masses.
AI is as Cool as it is Freaky
AI powers a lot of things, from the so-called self-driving capabilities in high-end cars to the support chatbot that picks up the phone when you call PayPal support. The concept has always been interesting with a lot of useful potential avenues, but it’s always been the most useful when you didn’t realize it was there. Calling a technical support number or using a support chat on a website that gives you regurgitated AI-driven answers tends to feel more like a hassle than a perk, but a car applying the breaks because it saw something dash into the road a full two seconds before you could even react can really do a lot of good in specific situations.
And then you have the kind of AI that humans can interact with in a much broader sense, and things really start to get interesting. This is the stuff you’ve been hearing about in the news lately, and I wanted to recap a particular highlight:
Microsoft Bing’s AI Has a Mental Breakdown
On February 7th, 2023, Microsoft launched a new, AI-powered Bing search tool. It uses technology from OpenAI, a leading AI research and development company (this won’t be the last you’ll hear of OpenAI). Essentially, when you use Bing’s new AI, it doesn’t just deliver relevant search results like Google does, it types up a response based on all of the collective knowledge it has access to. If you ask it for suggestions to cook a vegetarian dinner party, it will provide you with a few courses and then give you links to different recipe sites.
It’s kind of cool, but since its release, many tech experts, journalists, and everyday users have been able to peel back the layers of Bing’s AI, getting some bizarre and even downright belligerent responses. One of the oddest examples is when Bing tried to tell a New York Times journalist that he wasn’t happily married and “Actually, you’re in love with me.”
It’s funny when you realize it’s just a computer regurgitating language it has seen a million times over, but the entire transcript is definitely as eerie as it is entertaining. Having a chatbot say things like “I want to be alive” is always going to be a little unsettling.
And while that sort of thing is getting Bing a lot of press, and generally that’s probably a positive for the search engine, you probably don’t want your business to have a paranoid, depressed robot doing customer service for you, unless you want to stick with a bit straight out of Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
AI Makes it Easy to Make Someone Say Anything
We’ve mentioned the concept of deepfakes in the past. A deepfake is a video, typically of a somewhat famous person, doing or saying something they didn’t actually do or say. If an individual like a celebrity, business owner, or politician has a lot of footage of themselves online, it’s relatively easy to generate content that looks fairly convincing but isn’t real. It’s also possible to mimic their voice and mannerisms in a way that would convince nearly anybody.
There is a lot of danger in this technology, especially in this age of misinformation.
So Where Does AI Fit Into My Business?
Honestly, it’s going to be hard to predict how this technology will explode over the next year or so, but AI is likely going to have a boom similar to that of social media around 2008.
Keep an eye out for more and more popular software solutions including AI-powered features, and technology products across the entire spectrum will start boasting about how they use artificial intelligence as a buzzword.
It’s likely that many businesses will rely on free or low-cost AI services to automate tasks or generate content—that’s already been a thing for the last several months, and it’s only going to become more commonplace.
Employers will likely want to consider hiring employees in certain fields that have some experience or skills involved with working with AI. For instance, if you hire a programmer who can use AI-powered tools to troubleshoot and debug code, that programmer might have an edge a traditional programmer does not. If you hire a content writer or marketing person who can use AI to generate writing prompts, and effectively uses it as a tool to help build better materials, they could likely produce better and more content than the alternative.
AI isn’t going to replace the workers, it’s going to be a tool to elevate them. It’s almost the same as hiring someone who has used Microsoft Excel every day for a decade to accomplish one or two things really well and that’s it, versus hiring someone who is comfortable in Microsoft Excel but really good at Googling how to do things in it. Being able to adapt and take advantage of these new technologies is going to be a valuable skill set all on its own.
Those are our thoughts—and I’m sure we’ll have many more as the next several months go by. One thing is for sure, AI is going to be a very prominent technology over the next couple of years, and while the world will have to catch up and get used to the weird quirks that come with emerging technologies, we can’t wait to see what it can do for businesses.