What Do Small Business Owners Need to Know About Data and A.I.?

Founders are facing an endless stream of messaging around data and artificial intelligence: marketing from vendors, inquiries from investors, and headlines suggesting many other companies are pushing forward with their own data and A.I. efforts. “I am being flooded with Marketing Tech A.I.,” says Christina Bellman, founder and CEO of LEVO, an infusion machine company based in Colorado. “It’s wild!” 

The first thing to understand is why you always hear about data and A.I. in one breath. A.I. is an algorithm, which at its most basic level is a process that takes in one thing and outputs another. But just like a car that can’t leave the garage without fuel, machine learning algorithms need large volumes of data to feed their work; in turn, just like fuel is mined and processed in order to become usable to your vehicle, much of the most valuable data is derived from machine learning processes. Bottom line: the one isn’t much use without the other. So just know that when we talk about A.I. in this series, the implication is there’s a collection of data somewhere to fuel its outputs. 

A.I. is already being used by many companies (56%, according to one study) to gain a competitive edge, by reducing manual work often handled by highly paid talent, delivering clients more-robust insights, or expanding product offerings. There’s a good chance you already purchase A.I. in some form, as a business owner or certainly as a consumer — from your credit card’s fraud detection to your investment bank’s stock-purchasing algorithms to features built into your productivity software.

But what do founders actually need to know about A.I. for their business?

Glad you asked. I’m a data scientist, among other things, and my profession is one of several that regularly works with A.I., so I spend a lot of time talking to other data scientists, as well as founders and small business owners. I’m also a journalist, and in that role I’ve noticed that there’s a substantial gap in the conversations between the technical professionals who implement solutions and the business leaders who need them. In the coming weeks and months, I’ll be digging deeply into the nuts and bolts of what founders want–and need–to know in this series on A.I. for small business. Your feedback is welcome. You can reach out to me on Twitter with any questions or thoughts; you can also use the handy form we’ve included below. Here are some of the questions we’ll answer:

  • Why does A.I. matter for your business?
  • What can A.I. do–and what can’t it do?
  • How does A.I. actually work?
  • When is A.I. more useful than the tools you’re already using?
  • What questions should you ask when considering an A.I. product or service?
  • How can you spot false claims about A.I.?
  • What is the right price for A.I. products and services?
  • How can you be sure the A.I. is doing its work correctly?
  • What are the biggest pitfalls business leaders run into when hiring data and A.I. teams?
  • What kinds of regulatory, legal and ethical concerns do you need to think about?

You have an opportunity to shape this series. Let us know what other questions you may have, and we’ll get you answers.

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