Artificial intelligence, or AI, is all the rage in business. Owners hoping for more efficient operations and better team collaboration are eager to take advantage of smart machines, but where should you start?
First described by Stanford computer scientist John McCarthy in 1956, artificial intelligence refers to computer simulation of human intelligence. Let's explore the categories of AI most businesses are implementing today, as well as the things to keep in mind when considering AI-based collaboration tools.
We can place nearly all available AI programs into two categories: narrow artificial intelligence and general artificial intelligence. Narrow AI completes simple, routine tasks and can usually do so more quickly than human counterparts. This form of AI does not possess understanding or insight—it does exactly what it's programmed for. (Most automation in manufacturing and business environments is the product of narrow AI.)
Narrow AI is transforming team collaboration by taking over administrative functions and freeing human workers to focus on more mission-critical tasks. Alexa for Business and Google Assistant, for instance, are intelligent assistants your whole team can use via a shared console. These AI assistants interact with your team's other digital systems to set up meetings, send reminders, print necessary materials and run your presentation in a conference room.
Artificial general intelligence possesses greater cognitive abilities. A system using this form can come across an unfamiliar task or situation and generate solutions, although currently not to the level of abstraction possible for human workers. Still, as computer scientists devise increasingly sophisticated machine learning applications, which actively learn from prior experience by recognizing patterns in their own data, the productivity of team collaboration skyrockets.
Wherever you insert AI into a task or process that was previously accomplished by humans, you'll need a human on watch to ensure the AI is performing as intended.
In the last few years alone, chatbots (AI programs that simulate human conversation using text-based or auditory signals) have moved from the realm of narrow AI to general AI. For example, an early customer service chatbot might have been capable of answering a handful of pre-programmed questions. Today some chatbots can anticipate what customers will ask and may even leverage affective computing to make recommendations based on the tone of the human customer's voice.
If you've not yet integrated AI into your team collaboration efforts, I suggest the following three steps to increase your comfort level and make the most of your technology investment.
Step 1: Talk to similar businesses.
Both narrow AI and general AI have a broad range of applications, so consider soliciting ideas from owners who have organizations about your size, undertake like-minded tasks and have recognizable business process improvement goals.
You might, for example, ask a partner vendor about the software it uses to automate accounting in a way that maximizes cash flow. Inquire about the challenges and opportunities associated with this brand of AI, especially obstacles to adoption you're likely to encounter.
Step 2: Start small and don't over-automate.
Even AI seemingly as simple as team collaboration tools can involve implementation hiccups.
Rather than starting with your whole organization right away, pick a specific department or function to pilot a program. Work with an interested employee to design, execute and monitor the results of a short-term strategy, potentially engaging with consultants or vendor experts to master best practices. If you're happy with what you see once your pilot is complete, gradually expand to other areas of the business as appropriate.
Be careful not to automate too much at once, even if it's technically possible. Giving tasks to machines that should really be done by humans can cost you business—many owners learn this the hard way.
Step 3: Keep your humans “in the loop."
To that end, wherever you insert AI into a task or process that was previously accomplished by humans, you'll need a human on watch to ensure the AI is performing as intended. Employees should question the AI rather than blindly follow its outputs. This means that naturally, at least some employees who manually completed the task before will still be involved with it, but will now be deployed in strategic or oversight functions.
Artificial intelligence offers businesses team collaboration opportunities with the power to immediately affect results. Whether you start with narrow or general AI, being open-minded and vigilant—and putting in a fair amount of forethought—can lead to success.
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