Artificial intelligence (AI) has been a hot topic on social media, in business meetings, in classrooms, and even at some family gatherings this year. It’s been lauded as a boon to business productivity by some and cursed as a destroyer of jobs by others. Still others just get annoyed when they’re looking for answers and have to interact with a chatbot that doesn’t understand the typed question.
Despite all the chatter about AI, it still a babe in the business world. A November 2023 report from U.S. Census Bureau finds that, overall, only 3.8% of businesses currently use AI to produce goods and services.
That percentage varies, however, by industry.
Industries where AI Use is Higher Than Average
Not surprisingly (at least not to anyone working in certain industries), reported use of AI was higher than the national average in some industries. In the information sector, 13.8% reported using AI, while 9.1% reported using artificial intelligence in the Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services sector.
Those two sectors include industries such as software producers, computing infrastructure providers, data processing, web hosting, publishing, data processing and hosting, financial investment, motion pictures and sound recording.
What is AI?
Although the term, artificial intelligence, is in the news just about every day, there are still a lot of people who don’t really understand what it is, or what it does. That’s understandable because explanations of AI sound tend to be technical and even a bit scary.
For its business survey, the Census Bureau defines AI as “as computer systems and software able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as decision-making, visual perception, speech recognition and language processing.”
Some examples the Census Bureau cites are “machine learning, natural language processing, virtual agents, predictive analytics, machine vision, voice recognition, decision-making systems, data analytics, text analytics and image processing.”
Yet many people who fear AI or think it’s something only “techies” can employ are already using it themselves in their everyday life.
For instance, if you’ve ever used Alexa of Siri, you’ve used AI. If you use your face as identification to open your cell phone, you’re using AI. If you’re a Gmail user, it’s AI that separates your email into primary, social and promotional folders. And when you start to type a search query into Google or Bing and see a drop down trying to automatically complete your query, it’s AI at work.
What is Generative AI?
Generative AI is what’s caused so much attention to AI in the last year. Generative AI is technology such as ChatGPT and Bard that can create (generate) content. The content could be words, outlines, complete blog articles, images, lesson plans, and more.
The creation of content is done almost instantaneously with AI. For instance, I asked ChatGPT to produce an image of a gymnast doing a flip off a beam. It produced this image in less than 30 seconds:
Depending on your business needs, you could use generative AI to create suggested headlines and advertisements for your business, write social media posts, and blog posts, and create basic market research reports. If you have a business that requires customers to make appointments, there are AI apps for scheduling and notifications.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Generative AI can help you research, outline, write, draw or even make suggestions for improving almost any kind of content.
AI Use by Businesses Expected to Increase
According to the Census Bureau report, more businesses do plan to use AI in the future. Nationally, 6.5% of businesses expect to be using AI in the next 6 months.
Considering how use of the Internet and Internet-connect devices have grown over the years, one can only imagine that AI use in business — and other fields — will grow fast in coming years. In the future, we’ll look back and marvel how we got along before AI.
Think about it. Just 25 years ago phones – even mobile phones – were used primarily for one thing: to make voice phone calls. Today, businesses and the general public alike use them for texting, making and sharing videos, looking up information on the Internet, getting directions, reading and sending email, playing games, taking high quality photographs, and much more. In fact, if you’re like many people, the thing you do least often on your smart phone is talk.
AI Isn’t Going Away
Those changes will, of course, present both challenges and opportunities for small business owners and the self-employed. Older workers and business owners will need to get used to and learn how to use AI to stay relevant. I suspect most younger workers (especially in information and scientific industries) and people soon to enter the workforce are probably already using or experimenting with AI.
While it may be tempting for some to bury their head in the sand and think AI won’t affect their business, it’s not going away. The impact of AI on business will continue to grow. To succeed, businesses and employees will need to stay on top of the trend and learn to use them in their business, work, and daily life.