AI and the Future of Small Business

AI has gone from science fiction to science fact in a remarkably short time. 36 UK universities now offer degrees that are partly or wholly focused on Artificial Intelligence.

But how is it being used in business – and how could it help your small business in future?

AI for Your Business

In 2016, a Narrative Science survey found that 38% of enterprises were already using A.I. to automate manual, repetitive tasks, with this predicted to rise to 62% by 2018. 88% were using technologies that rely on AI (indicating confusion about what’s actually meant by using AI!).

Small business owners may think that AI is way beyond anything they need or can afford. But they could be employing it to streamline business tasks much sooner than they think – and they may already be using it without knowing they are!

Does your business have a Facebook page?

If so, then you’re using AI by default. AI powers those ‘insights’ and provides the analysis of who’s reading what, where and when. This is a typical use of AI in business and in other fields – the gathering and analysis of ‘big data’. AI goes beyond analysis, though, to offer intelligent suggestions about what your next move should be, based on its analysis.

Keeping Customer Loyalty

The Swipii platform uses AI to collect data on user shopping habits to construct personalised rewards programmes that keep customers coming back.

Need to recruit new staff?

AI can be used to create the prefect job description and advert, and post it in all the right places. But again, it goes beyond that. For instance, Arya uses big data analysis together with behavioural pattern recognition to assess thousands of online CVs, constantly learning and working to improve its matches so that it can find you the ideal candidate.

Want to keep your staff healthy?

Well, Alexa can already recite instructions for resuscitation, but AI goes way beyond that already, providing the monitoring, reasoning and recommendations behind a rapidly-expanding number of healthcare wearables. It could quickly become cheaper than offering your employees health insurance – or preferable to your employees becoming ill at work or taking prolonged sick leave.

California researchers detected cardiac arrhythmia with 97% accuracy on wearers of an Apple Watch with the AI-based Cardiogram application, while scientists from Harvard and the University of Vermont have developed an AI tool that can better identify depression by studying Instagram posts, which could help early intervention.

Researchers at Google trained a deep neural network to detect diabetic retinopathy with higher accuracy than an ophthalmologist.

Closer to home, researchers at the University of Nottingham have created an algorithm that predicts heart attacks better than doctors using conventional guidelines.

No time to answer the phone or your emails?

Chatbots could be the answer. Increasingly sophisticated, they can now bring a more ‘personal’ touch to interactions with customers by phone, email, on your website or on social media.

Gartner predict that by 2019 requests for customer support through mobile messaging apps will exceed customer support by traditional social media, and that by 2020, 85% of customer interactions will be with A.I. ING Bank, The Hyatt, Vodaphone and FedEx are all now using Chatbots to support their customer service requirements.

Need help with the number crunching?

Sage has even designed an accounting chatbot called Pegg, which can track your expenses and incoming payments in real time, continually learning in order to adapt to your business practices and make intelligent, relevant recommendations. There are also chatbots that manage online and phone bank transactions with your customers.

Need a health and safety inspector or auditor?

AI can be used to monitor equipment, detect faults and make decisions that could prevent accidents or failures. It cannot only gather information but use it to make predictions and issue alerts. It can also spot inefficiencies and suggest improvements.

For the last few years, Hong Kong’s subway engineers have been managed and deployed by AI, saving the MTR corporation that runs the railway two days a week.

Writing your Reports

AI can easily handle statistic-heavy reports, but AI tools like Quill are increasingly successful at filling the gaps, sounding human and adapting the text for its audience.

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