What is AI and How Can I Use it in My Business? (Part One)

Cartoon robot

Chat GPT. Google Bard. Bing Assistant. Meta’s LLaMA. These are names that are sending shockwaves through different professional and educational communities around the globe because of the potential they have to “turn the industry upside down.”

solar calculator But here’s the thing… As powerful as these tools are, we have to remember that they are only as smart as the questions we use to guide them to an answer. There is a human learning curve in order to actually make them useful. Remember when calculators started with simple math and evolved to have huge amounts of memory, Reverse Polish Notation, algebraic logic, independent storage registers, enhanced fractions, built-in physical constants and statistics? All the capability is great, but if you don’t know how to take advantage of it, the tool you have is no more powerful than the solar-powered desk calculator your grandparents had on their kitchen table for balancing their checkbook.

Now, that’s not to say that these AI systems don’t have the potential to dramatically change business as we know it. They will because there are people out there who are committed to learning how to use these tools as quickly and efficiently as possible to enable better, faster, cheaper results for their businesses. And those who don’t get on board relatively quickly may be left behind wondering what happened.

But what, exactly, is AI?

cartoon robotIt is important to understand that there is A LOT of misinformation out there. AI tends to be a term that people use when they want to impress you without getting too specific. “Artificial Intelligence” has been a specter (HAL-9000 in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001”) or savior (oddly enough, HAL-9000 again in Kubrick’s “2010”) in popular culture for decades, so we have a built-in reverence for it. Popular science fiction TV shows, books and even “futuristic” cartoons like The Jetsons featured AI. All around us, products and services are rebranding using “AI” in their name to effortlessly increase their cool and edgy factor. Just like “web” and “app” in the early days of the internet and smartphones, in many cases AI is just another advertising bandwagon to jump on.

When it comes down to it, AI tools are fantastic at synthesizing existing knowledge or information in interesting ways. But they’re not really creative and they can’t really reason. Artificial Intelligences aren’t aware in the way that a person (or even a pet) is, and they have no long-term memory nor do they have an easy way to GET any long term memory. So we don’t need to worry about Skynet from “The Terminator” trying to eradicate humankind. Yet.

blue parrotThese ‘thinking’ computer systems are really nothing more than very clever parrots. They’re good at reciting whatever portion of the entirety of human knowledge they have been taught, and they’re even good at combining that knowledge in new ways. But they will just as easily lie to you. Not intentionally or maliciously, mind you. It’s just because they don’t know any better. Much like a child in a chemistry lab, they know how to put things together, but they don’t know what combinations might create a noxious gas or delectable candy coating.

So what does this boil down to? So let’s briefly explore some things AI is good for in business:

  • Generating building blocks for a presentation, marketing campaign, business plan, speech etc.
  • Generating ideas for a new company name.
  • Creating boilerplate emails.
  • Creating article or blog outlines.
  • Writing product descriptions.
  • Collecting data from literature and the internet on a specific topic (cautiously!).
  • Brainstorming topics for a speech.

So with that in mind, we decided to have some fun to demonstrate something it is pretty good at. We gave ChatGPT the following prompt:

Act as a brand naming consultant for small niche businesses. Make a list of 10 potential names for a company that rents goats to local landowners to reduce ground vegetation in a fire-prone mountain community.

And we got some results that may not be the exact name we would use, but they may open up different lines of thinking and lead you to the perfect name!

  • Grazing Green Goatsbaby goats in a green pasture
  • Mountain Munchers
  • EcoBrowsers Rentals
  • FireFend Goats
  • Vegetation Vanishers
  • GreenGuard Goat Rentals
  • Chew Crew Eco-Solutions
  • GoatGraze Defenders
  • Mountain Goat Mowers
  • Caprine Clippers EcoService

Honestly, these are surprisingly good and insightful. So in this case, maybe new words, phrases or angles were presented by the non-biased, non-thinking tool that would lead you to your perfect company name! For example, your typical business owner might never think about how “Caprine” means “relating to goats”, but ChatGPT knew! AI tools don’t get distracted or get writer’s block. They’re just as effective at 3AM on a Sunday night as they are at 9AM on a Tuesday.

AI’s usefulness is similar to that of an intern executive assistant. While they’re not a specialist in anything, and probably can’t be fully trusted to execute sophisticated projects and tasks unguided and independently, with guidance, they can still be useful. In fact, when asked properly, they can provide a step by step guide of how to do a task, and often complete some of those steps for you. But for the moment, unsupervised completion of complex tasks is still for the most part, out of their reach. And they need to be monitored and guided at each step so they don’t go astray and take more time than doing it without their help.

With some time, practice and patience, you can learn how to ask AI to give you the information and content you want and need. However, it is critical that you use this tool as a starting point and you do not implicitly trust what it gives you and use it exactly as is. That, and other pitfalls will be discussed in our next blog about how you do NOT want to use AI.

So, what do we want you to learn from this specific blog? Try not to let yourself become enamored OR afraid of this new technology. Like everything else that has come before, AIs are just new tools that offer compelling capabilities. You still need to learn how to use them if you want good results, and just like any new business tool, it may make more sense for you to continue to focus on what you’re good at, and delegate the AI Wrangler role to someone else. Without experience and domain expertise to monitor and guide them, they can be worthless, and could potentially even harm a business (with mistakes, not Terminators).

Right tool for the job hammer hitting screw, pliers with nail.As AIs become more and more integrated into our existing tools and processes over the next few years, they will definitely provide a more seamless and productive experience, but those of us who adopt early and intelligently will have an advantage over the competition that sits back and waits for the AI version of Clippy to be their new office assistant.

Stay tuned for Part Two of this Blog very soon! 

What is AI and How Can I Use it in My Business? (Part One)
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