You’ve no doubt heard a lot about AI (Artificial Intelligence) over the past several months.
From what I’ve read, these tools will either be the greatest invention ever, transforming the world of work and significantly increasing productivity, or… they will lead to tremendous job losses and the end of humanity as we know it.
Although serious people hold views on both ends of this extreme range, I suspect the ultimate truth will be somewhere in between. (How’s that for a bold prediction?!)
Regardless of how and when this all shakes out, I think perspective is in order. There is already a growing sense that AI, at least in the short-term, will become a tool to support workers, not replace them. In fact, that is how the deal worked out with Hollywood writers has been positioned in ending the long writers strike.
As for what the arrival of AI means for those of us in the business world and what to think and do about it now, I have a few suggestions….
#1. Get Your Hands On It
There are countless articles about what AI can and cannot do. And while reading these offers some insight, it’s not the same as trying it for yourself. Now is the perfect time, while we are all relative newbies and the paint has yet to dry on any of this.
Several of these tools are available for free; other, more powerful versions are available for a relatively low cost. Some of them — like Microsoft’s Co-Pilot — will soon be integrated into software you are likely using today. Do some googling and choose one or two to experiment with and think about how you might put it to use.
In my case, for example, I had the opportunity to teach an interactive two-week course in entrepreneurship for high school students this past summer. My teaching partner and I jumped in, only to realize that while there were some high-level guidelines, there was no lesson plan provided. So… we input some of our thoughts and prompted ChatGPT to create the course for us. It spit out an outline that, while far from perfect, gave us a place to begin. From there, we asked ChatGPT to suggest a number of suitable activities for that audience. Again, not perfect. But a helpful starting point.
The range of useful applications for AI is very wide — from research and search functions, summarizing long and complex papers, and, as we discovered, generating ideas. The more you experiment for yourself, the more possibilities you will begin to see.
#2. Proceed With Caution
Many AI tools work based on the information they are fed — they are constantly “learning.” So while it may be tempting to ask one of these to review your organization’s strategy and suggest options, or to upload your business financials and ask AI to uncover possible opportunities, doing so would be a mistake. The information you upload is not protected or kept confidential in any way.
For example, recently, a software executive spoke to a class I teach. He talked about how some code-writers were able to insert a block of code into an AI tool and instruct it to revise the code so that the function would process more quickly, which it did. But they soon realized that they were essentially training a public tool with their company’s proprietary code!
Private versions of these tools — that do not share your inputs with the outside world — are being developed to help companies avoid this risk. Absent that, beware of what you put out into the AI ecosystem.
Bear in mind as well that AI tools have quickly become famous for both “hallucinating” — a wonderful term for when the software simply makes things up — and extrapolating from whatever built-in biases existed within their training data. In both cases, treating AI output as fact rather than suggestions requiring verification can lead to potentially disastrous results.
#3. Retain the Human Element
If you are thinking of using AI for customer-facing applications, bear in mind its limitations. While it may sound like a human, it isn’t. It’s a machine and lacks an authentic human touch. It has no sense of empathy or ethics. So while it may enhance many human tasks — though not all of them — a human review and editing of the output is still very important.
For example, I know of some consultants who have fed past proposals into AI tools and asked it to draft proposals for new project requests. Others have talked about having AI draft a series of thank you letters for donors to an organization at various giving levels.
In either case, it is critically important to accept the results offered as a starting point and then spend time carefully reviewing the output to make sure it includes sufficient personal touches and appropriate writing style. We don’t want recipients of either to feel like they are receiving form letters. (And, as mentioned earlier, you must be careful to not share confidential information to a public system.)
I’ve been asked whether I think these tools will replace humans in many roles… including consultants! The best answer I’ve heard is this: AI won’t replace consultants; consultants that use AI will replace those who don’t.
Clearly, there will be situations where the tools require fewer workers in some roles. But as with most technologies, they will create different kinds of roles in the future, hopefully, in the best interest of all of us. Get started now.