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Is artificial intelligence a threat, or a business opportunity?

I have come back to the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on our lives and, more specifically, on our new and small businesses. Is it a threat or an opportunity for your business, startup idea, or current job? Will true artificial general intelligence be the last human invention? When will it arrive?

We are experiencing the dawn of a new age for economics, regulation, education, politics and society and we are already seeing signs of exponential growth - something we struggle to comprehend.

I have said on my, soon to be relaunched, YouTube channel that anyone in business or thinking of starting a business has to move up the 'value pyramid'. If you are offering the standard service to the standard customer at the standard price, then a large enterprise (e.g. Amazon) is going to eat your lunch. However, artificial intelligence is going to clear the plates of many large enterprises, but the time horizon matters. The event horizon (the moment of consciousness and the point of no return) for super-intelligence, or artificial general intelligence (AGI) is still 10 - 20 years away according to the likes of experts such as Ray Kurzweil (2045 is his prediction). Within several years the need for customer service agents, administration workers, drivers and shop assistants will disappear. Withing a decade even lawyers (at least those drafting anything) and surgeons (robots will just be better) will be under threat. By 2045, the need for any human brain and muscle power (AGI will design super efficient machines to replace human labour) may suffer the same fate and only the super-creative amongst us will enjoy solace in gainful employment.

AI is already changing the business landscape. According to McKinsey, AI has the potential to create $13 trillion in economic value by 2030. While larger companies have been quick to adopt AI, startups and new businesses have been slower to catch up. As with all technology, many small businesses have yet to explore the potential of AI, and those that do often struggle with implementation and integration. Although small business are well-placed to benefit from the power of AI, many do not understand their options and fear the costs of implementation. There is the potential for many to be needlessly left behind (read my last newsletter). AI will enable companies to create highly personalised products and services and those that fail to embrace AI risk becoming irrelevant.

In my view, there is no point dancing around the reality of what is coming, even if politicians and educators have their heads buried in the sand. Entire service sectors will be replaced in the next few years. For example, the rise of AI-powered virtual assistants and chatbots, such as OpenAI's ChatGPT, means that customer service roles will become automated. In the short term humans will not become obsolete. AI can work alongside humans to augment their abilities - such as a healthcare professional using AI to analyse patient data and recommend treatment options, freeing up more time for patient interaction. In the longer run, patient interaction is all that will be left for the healthcare professional. Human labour will eventually become obsolete as it is replaced by cheap machines that never tire, get ill, go on holiday, need continuous training, or strike.

So what does this mean for anyone in business, or thinking about going into business? If you accept the future that is coming, it is simple - be aware of the approaching fundamental change and plan for it now. Embrace it, seek to learn and understand as much as you can about these new technologies and build them into your plans. Leverage them to become more productive, reduce costs, engage with customers, or extract insights from data.

Many new software companies have launched to offer tools that use the AI platforms of companies such as Open AI and Google, but in the longer run they are likely to be acquired or simply disintermediated.

Your super-power is your human creativity and ability to understand what humans need, or want. Technology is the enabler. You will soon be able to talk to a machine in natural language and ask it to write, host and even market software. You will not need to know how to write code.

All new technologies have created threats and new opportunities, but the progression of human innovation was still linear - the line just became steeper. This time it is different. It will be exponential, and it is exciting, but the power of these technologies should not coalesce into the hands of the few.

The barriers to entry to design and deploy complex solutions will reduce and only the capital, customers and distribution of large enterprises will protect them.

Our societal, political, legal, economic and education systems are not ready, but entrepreneurs, innovators and entrepreneur can be. In fact, our entrepreneurs and creatives may be the last people with day jobs!

What is your view to 2045 and beyond? Thanks for reading.


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