Intro to AI for Small Business Owners

Despite what they say about work-life balance, being a small business owner is a 24/7 gig. When you’re not working, you’re likely thinking about the business.

Are you turning over a profit? Can you pay all your bills? Are your staff happy? The last thing you need right now is to hire again…

Each and every business owner wants to see their business succeed. They’d give anything to achieve their business goals.

Imagine technology that’s powerful, friendly and specific to you; it frees up your time, gives you important business data in real-time, automates time-consuming admin tasks, pays your bills and so much more…

When people think of artificial intelligence, they think of robots, voice assistants and chatbots.

They don’t tend to think of Gmail, Spotify or Netflix. These all use AI with or without us realising it.

We’ve all heard of Apple’s Siri, Google’s driverless cars and IBM’s Watson technology. But why should the cafe or fashion boutique down the street miss out on technology that could transform their business and help them achieve their business goals?

It’s time small businesses had big business capability.

What is artificial intelligence?

No matter who you talk to, they’ll all likely give you a different definition of AI. In essence, AI refers to an artificial creation of human-like intelligence that can learn, reason, plan, perceive, or process natural language.

For example, computers performing tasks such as number calculations quicker and more accurately than humans can. These tasks often fall under these key areas:

Visual intelligence (understanding imagery and spatial awareness)
Speech intelligence (understanding the nuances of human speech)
Decision-making intelligence (being able to problem-solve and make decisions)
Language intelligence (understanding languages and being able to translate)

But where does AI get its intelligence from? Historically, AI programmes have relied heavily on analysing mass amounts of data and natural language processing to gain their smarts.

Basically, AI programming uses historical data to learn, improve and problem-solve in different scenarios. AI can be used to collate, analyse, predict and take action in an unlimited number of scenarios.

For businesses, the list of current and potential applications of AI is simply enormous.

The different types of AI

Given the unlimited applications of AI, it makes sense that the technology is difficult to categorise into a shortlist of types.

However, we were to simplify AI into four categories, it would be the following:

1) Reactive

This is the simplest form of AI machine learning. Like its name suggests, it can be programmed to react to its circumstances, but it can’t remember the past (or use memory to make better decisions in the future). For example, Google’s AlphaGo was able to defeat a champion human Go player by reacting to every move with a stronger counter-move.

2) Limited Memory

The next progression from reactive AI, limited memory machines can remember and react with its changing environment. However, just like short-term memory in humans, it is often lost and only serves a purpose for a short time. Many autonomous cars are an example of such technology. They can analyse their immediate situation such as upcoming traffic lights or other cars around them, and react accordingly. But they cannot store and learn from these experiences long-term.

3) Theory of Mind

Theory of mind AI takes this further. Not only can this technology react and learn from experience; it can also interpret new situations. This is the transition between understanding information and understanding how humans behave and use such information. Theory of mind AI can begin to read-between-the-lines and learn why people do things, and predict human behaviour as a result. For example, FaceMe are developing AI ‘digital humans’ that will not only be able to read emotion, but empathise with customers.

4) Self-awareness

Eventually, AI machines will likely gain a level of self-awareness. This will be the next step in the progression of AI where machines move from understanding information and people, to learning and improving from reflection and introspection. For example, machines that are able to evaluate their own performance and adjust accordingly in similar scenarios.

There you have it: A bit about AI and its implications for small businesses in the future.

Look out for our next article where we highlight what AI can do for your business right now.