Why Small Businesses Shouldn’t Overinvest in AI Tools

6 Min Read

We’re witnessing a massive explosion in AI and AI tools. Countless impressive tools that utilize AI to do everything from automating data entry tasks to generating novels’ worth of content have emerged and are generally cheap enough for even small businesses and individuals to consider.

Accordingly, small business owners everywhere are practically drooling about the potential benefits. For a relatively small investment, you could get access to a dozen or more tools that can hypothetically skyrocket your productive potential.

With the right collection of tools, they think they can dramatically reduce costs, compete with major rivals, and multiply their long-term potential.

But it’s important to exercise some caution in this area and avoid overinvesting in AI.

Why is this the case and what does over investment in AI look like?

Privacy and Security Concerns

In some applications, AI tools can present privacy and security concerns. For example, let’s say you’re producing a contract or a legal agreement that involves sensitive private information from your clients. You’re legally bound to keep this data safe. Can you be absolutely confident that this AI tool is going to protect the privacy and security of your client information?

This is a tricky area. If you’re developing your own product, you may be able to take reasonable precautions to keep all your information secure. If you’re relying on a product developed by a third party, you’ll have less transparency; even if the company claims that the tool is perfectly private and secure, this can be difficult to validate, especially considering the AI transparency issue.

Lack of AI Transparency

AI has a “black box” problem that you may have heard about. The most advanced AI and machine learning systems on the market today utilize neural networks, which attempt to model neural patterns in the brain to mimic human intelligence. In this neural network, there are thousands to millions of “nodes” that allow AI systems to compartmentalize and connect different elements of identification or knowledge. In combination with each other, and when coordinated properly, these pseudo-neurons can eventually allow the broader system to form conclusions or generate material.

The problem is that AI researchers and developers don’t always have access to these nodes or understand how those nodes are being utilized. This is a layer of opacity that prevents us from ever having true transparency.

Core Limitations of AI

In most applications, AI comes with limitations like:

  •       Repetition and predictability. Narrow AI applications are inherently restricted; that’s because it’s very easy to program AI to be very good at a narrow range of tasks, but it’s much harder to program AI to be even passively good at a wide range of tasks. As a byproduct of this dynamic, most AI tools are highly repetitive and highly predictable. Sometimes, this is a genuine advantage, like when it comes to automating data entry. Other times, it’s a major weakness, like when it comes to generating original content.
  •       Biases and inaccuracies. AI is often biased and inaccurate, sometimes as a result of biased programmers, and sometimes as a result of limitations with research and understanding. Either way, AI tools pale in comparison to human minds.
  •       Lack of personality. Despite the best efforts of developers, AI tools are flat and without personality. AI tools can’t replicate human emotions, personalities, or even opinions. This makes them entirely unsuited for certain types of tasks.

Over-reliance and Skill Erosion

We also need to consider the possibility of over-reliance on AI tools and its influence on skill erosion. If you spend enough time relying on a GPS navigational device, you’ll gradually get worse at navigating without one. The same is true in most AI applications; if you rely on automation to do it, you’ll become less capable of doing it yourself.

The Temptation of a Thousand Tools

Everything is a subscription these days. Getting access to a sophisticated AI tool for $50 a month may seem like a total bargain, but what happens when you encounter another interesting AI tool, and another, and another? Before you know it, you’ll be subscribed to 20 different services for $1,000 a month, and you’ll be hard-pressed to justify the expense.

You’re much better off investing in a smaller number of more helpful AI tools, heightening the power of your investments.

Invest – Just Don’t Overinvest

Sections of this article probably seem like a condemnation of AI altogether, and it’s true that we’re effectively trying to warn small business owners against misusing AI. However, many of the AI breakthroughs we’ve seen in the last few years have been genuinely breathtaking. Investing in AI can be good for you and good for your business – what’s important is that you’re smart about it. Keep your budget somewhat restrained and do your due diligence before adding any tool to your portfolio.


Featured image provided by Pavel Danilyuk; Pexels; Thanks!

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