Opinion | AI is huge step for small businesses

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As the officially designated Small Business Month, May is set aside to celebrate the importance of small businesses and their owners to our economy. It is also a good time to take stock in the huge advances in technology that have made being a small business owner more efficient than ever.

Whether it be the internet, social media, wireless technologies or process integration, small businesses have never been better positioned to grow and serve their customers. Even in the face of massive technology growth, small businesses are at the starting line of the biggest game changer of them all: artificial intelligence (AI).

Far from science fiction movies, modern day AI is a human-initiated process that involves inputting data into algorithms and models. Just as a computer in 1983 became the first machine chess master, today’s AI uses adaptive algorithms and models to predict and learn. While this may seem like something out of a science fiction movie, in reality it has very real-life applications that will both benefit average people as well as small businesses.

At our company, we help small businesses utilize technology to streamline their business and help increase their bottom line. And while it’s in its infancy, AI is already helping the small businesses we work with. Whether it be helping restaurants take phone orders, reducing the cost of building websites or using ChatGPT to help monitor and rewrite existing small business code in real time, AI is already showing huge potential in helping small businesses serve their customers and save money. Even in these early stages of AI, a recent report from the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council found that 48% of small businesses have started using AI in the past year, and another 29% have been using AI for one to two years.

While it is understandable that some may have concerns about a technology they may not understand or has been portrayed in a bad light decades before it even existed, we should not be afraid of harnessing technological advances out of fear. It wasn’t that long ago the idea of having a wireless call between two people on opposite sides of the earth would have been viewed as witchcraft.

I understand the desire by some to limit the use of AI. Nobody is advocating for using AI to commit otherwise illegal activities, just as no one would support using other forms of technology to do other illegal activities. That said, we must be mindful that technological advances need freedom to grow and be fully utilized. Countries like China are attempting to beat us in leading the globe in AI development. If we go too far and suppress our ability to develop AI, we risk living in a world where China will have a clear technology edge over the U.S. — a reality that will have implications far beyond just our economic well-being.

During this small business month, we say thanks to these engines of our economy that employ nearly half of all private sector workers. We can show appreciation to small businesses, not only with our purchases, but also by supporting the technologies that make what they do possible.

Paul Berning is president of Growth Management Solutions in Hudson, where he and his team work with small business owners to find and implement technologies to grow their revenues and reach their goals.

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