AI Principles for Small Businesses

Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to computer systems capable of performing complex tasks that historically only a human was able to do.

Back in December 2023, The New York Times Company decided to sue OpenAI, claiming they were guilty of copyright infringement with their AI tool, ChatGPT. 

According to FastCompany, The Times said that “The companies are threatening its livelihood by effectively stealing billions of dollars worth of work by its journalists, in some cases spitting out Times’ material verbatim to people who seek answers from generative artificial intelligence like OpenAI’s ChatGPT.”

If AI can threaten the reputation of a massive platform such as The Times, you can probably imagine what it could do to a small business if the right security measures aren’t well-placed. And we’re not just talking about your content, but your customers’ sensitive data as well. 

As a small business owner, what should you be aware of in terms of the benefits and dangers of AI – and what safeguards should you put in place?

That’s what we’ll be discussing today.

What Is AI? The Simple Definition

Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to computer systems capable of performing complex tasks that historically only a human was able to do, such as “reasoning”, “making decisions”, or solving problems. Those are in quotes for a reason.

ChatGPT is the most popular example of AI used by 180.5 million people every day. They can give it prompts or questions, and it replies instantly with text that sounds like a human wrote it. Because humans have written it. AI Large Language Models (LLMs) have just been trained on tons of text from the internet, like books, articles, and websites. This training helps them learn patterns in language so they can predict and create text that sounds natural.

So, yes, the unedited articles written with ChatGPT are essentially regurgitated versions of everything else that’s already out there on the internet. Hold that thought.

Benefits of AI for Small Businesses

Nearly half of small businesses have started using AI tools in the past year – not too shabby. And here’s why that’s a good thing: we’ve all had that “wow” moment when we first used ChatGPT,, or any other AI tool to write content. It felt like it was going to save us tons of time, and in a lot of cases, it did. 

They were especially helpful for small business owners who are short on time but still want to produce quality content. 

Writing aside, AI can also help us interact with customers using human-like language, thanks to chatbots trained to speak in any brand’s voice. It’s a breakthrough we knew was coming, but it arrived just in time to streamline our processes.

That said, as amazing as AI is, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. There’s a lot happening behind the scenes in terms of security risks, privacy laws, and other potential challenges that could pose problems for small businesses. 

What You Should Know About AI for Your Business

AI-Generated Content Is Meant for Drafts Only – Do Not Publish It!

AI is great for inspiration and research, but it shouldn’t be the final word in publishing content. Especially because, at this point, any article that begins with “in the ever-evolving landscape of (insert industry here)” is very obviously AI-generated. 

Even though many of us use AI for drafts and ideas, it’s the human touch in editing and adding personal experiences that sets it apart. Ironically, it’s no longer AI but the human touch that can be a major differentiator for companies – authentic, human-written content stands out in a sea of similar-sounding pieces. 

That’s why not editing an AI-generated piece can result in dull, uninspiring content lacking creativity and emotional depth, and it even poses the risk of spreading misinformation. In fact, when you open ChatGPT, you’ll come across the following message: 

“ChatGPT can make mistakes. Consider checking important information.”

You’ve been warned!

AI Content Is Built From the Internet (It’s Not Yours and It’s Not Unique)

Ever used AI to write an article and noticed that the top search results look like they’ve been copied and pasted? That’s because they often pull from existing internet content. Despite the internet being huge, a lot of it is just recycled text. 

So, if you don’t edit your content before putting it out there, it won’t be unique.

Even if you ask AI for something specific and it seems like it’s coming up with its own ideas, the content still isn’t really one-of-a-kind. Particularly because AI doesn’t think for itself. It doesn’t have consciousness like a human does. It processes input and generates responses based on patterns it learned during training, but that’s all. 

Be Aware That Your Content on the Internet Is Also Available In AI Tools 

The article you’re currently reading is fuel for the AI’s training. The one you’re currently writing is, too. It’ll take your content and use it to craft responses for others in your industry. That’s why it’s crucial to be selective about the data you feed it.

Public models like ChatGPT can be risky for businesses, especially if you handle sensitive consumer data in regulated fields like Healthcare and Financial services. It’s crucial to invest in AI solutions that will stand the test of time, and limit company data exposure by building private AI models

Private AI models are custom-made AI tools designed just for one company. They’re trained using that company’s own data, so they learn exactly what’s important for that business. These models keep the data locked up while still being as smart and helpful as the big AI models out there. So, businesses get all the benefits of AI without worrying about their sensitive info being leaked. 

AI Tools Must Have a Net Benefit to Your Productivity

This might seem obvious, but you should only start using AI by getting a solid grip on how and if this technology fits into your business goals.

Start by thinking about your objectives: where could AI step in to help with decision-making or problem-solving across the board? Consider the specific challenges you face and how AI might offer solutions to:

  • Improve and speed up processes (such as drafting content)
  • Analyse data
  • Improve customer support
  • And more…

You also need to think about your customers. Ask yourself: Would implementing AI enhance their experience with your products or services? And crucially, would it maintain the security and privacy of their data?

Your Customers Must Know How Their Data Is Used

When it comes to letting customers know they’re interacting with a bot, transparency is essential. Have the bot introduce itself as an AI assistant at the beginning of the conversation, always.  

Additionally, provide clear information about what the bot is capable of doing and any limitations it might have. For example, if it can’t handle certain complex questions or provide financial advice, make sure users are aware of that upfront.

As for data usage, it’s vital to be honest about how you handle customer data. You can do this by including a privacy policy or terms of service that clearly outlines what data is collected, how it’s used, and who it’s shared with. 

Importantly, consider providing users with options to control their data, such as opting out of data collection or deleting their information upon request. Keeping customers informed and empowered when it comes to their data builds trust and keeps your reputation intact. 

You Should Work With a Strong Tech Partner

A lot could go right, but a lot could also go awry. 

Bots could provide incorrect information to users, which could result in unwanted consequences. 

Users may knowingly or unknowingly get personal customer data involved. 

They may want to sue your company in case any of that happens, and the results could be catastrophic. 

To avoid these risks, teaming up with a solid tech partner is key. They can help you put safeguards in place and create a safe space for your team and your customers. This might involve boosting data protection, following regulations, and being upfront with users about how their information is handled.

In short…

AI is a paradigm shift, no doubt. But you need to use it with caution, as your small business’ integrity and customers’ personal data are at stake. Enjoy its benefits, but be careful!

Duncan Isaksen-Loxton

Educated as a web developer, with over 20 years of internet based work and experience, Duncan is a Google Workspace Certified Collaboration Engineer and a WordPress expert.
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