Top 9 Risks of Artificial Intelligence and Workforce Automation for Small Businesses
You’ve been paying close enough attention to advances in technology to know that Artificial Intelligence (AI) has absolutely blown up in the past couple of years. Heck, the launching of ChatGPT just over four months ago completely blew everyone’s minds, to the extent that global leaders in the field recently called for a halt in AI development. More on that below.
Even the largest and most sophisticated corporations with employees dedicated to business optimization struggle with keeping up with the advances in technology, let alone understanding how to implement them. Small businesses, which tend to be shorter staffed and without resources focused exclusively to advanced technologies, sometimes struggle keeping up with the pace of change. And some of them are just starting to understand the impact that these technologies will have on their business.
What are some key items those businesses need to keep in mind as they embark on this new frontier?
And more importantly to you, perhaps, what are the biggest risks to small businesses of this massive “AI arms race”? Read on for what I believe the nine biggest risks are.
Let’s start with the open letter that Musk and his contemporaries wrote about this, and then discuss some of the risks and benefits of AI and workforce automation on small businesses.
Open Letter from Elon Musk & Others: Let’s Take a 6-Month Pause
On March 29, 2023, Elon Musk and other AI leaders signed an open letter to the world’s leading artificial intelligence labs, urging them to pause the development of new super-powerful systems for six months. The letter, which was hosted on the Future of Life Institute‘s website, argued that recent advances in AI present “profound risks to society and humanity.”
The list of signatories comprises over 1,000 notable individuals, including Elon Musk, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, “Sapiens” author Yuval Noah Harari, and several prominent academics who have contributed to significant breakthroughs in machine learning. As of April 11, no OpenAI employees had signed the letter, although CEO Sam Altman’s name was temporarily on the list before being removed. Additionally, at least four Google employees, three of whom are from its subsidiary AI lab DeepMind, Emad Mostaque, the CEO of Stability AI, and Tristan Harris, executive director of the Center for Humane Technology, have also lent their names to the list.
The signatories argued that AI is developing at an unprecedented pace, and that the risks of this technology are not fully understood. They warned that AI could be used to create autonomous weapons systems, to manipulate people’s minds, or to disrupt the global economy.
The letter called on AI labs to use the six-month pause to develop safety protocols and to ensure that AI is used for good. The signatories also called on governments to regulate AI development and to invest in research on AI safety.
The letter has been met with mixed reactions. Some have praised the signatories for raising awareness of the risks of AI, while others have criticized the letter as alarmist and premature. It remains to be seen whether the letter will have any impact on the development of AI.
Trends & Benefits in AI & Advanced Technologies
This letter is significant because it underscores the almost uncontrollable speed at which these technologies are advancing. If these global experts in the field are concerned about the rate of change is dangerous, I believe we have reason to be concerned. Advanced technologies are basically taking on a life as their own, bringing some benefits and some risks. Let’s look at a few trends in this space:
Rise of Deep Learning
One of the most significant trends in AI is the rise of deep learning. Deep learning is a type of machine learning that uses artificial neural networks to learn from data. Neural networks are inspired by the human brain, and they are able to learn complex patterns and make accurate predictions. Deep learning has been used to achieve state-of-the-art results in a wide range of tasks, including image recognition, natural language processing, and speech recognition.
Increase in Big Data
Another key trend in AI is the increasing availability of data. The amount of data that is being generated is growing exponentially, and this data is essential for training AI algorithms. Data can be collected from a variety of sources, including sensors, social media, and customer transactions. The more data that is available, the better AI algorithms will be able to perform.
Affordability & Accessibility
AI is becoming more affordable and accessible. In the past, AI was only available to large companies with deep pockets. However, the cost of AI hardware and software is decreasing, and this is making it more affordable for small businesses. As a result, small businesses are increasingly able to take advantage of the benefits of AI.
So, what are the potential benefits of AI for small businesses? There are so many potential benefits, including, as a small sample:
- Improved customer service: AI can be used to automate customer service tasks, such as answering frequently asked questions and resolving problems. This can free up human employees to focus on more complex tasks.
- Increased sales: AI can be used to personalize marketing campaigns and target customers with relevant offers. This can lead to increased sales and improved customer loyalty.
- Reduced costs: AI can be used to automate tasks that are currently performed by humans, such as data entry and customer service. This can lead to reduced costs and increased efficiency.
- Improved decision-making: AI can be used to analyze data and identify trends. This information can be used to make better decisions about marketing, product development, and other business operations.
Top 9 Risks of AI and Workforce Automation for Small Businesses
As small businesses increasingly adopt workforce automations, several risks must be considered that could impact their operations, workforce, and overall success. Some of the most significant risks include:
1. Job Displacement: One of the primary concerns of workforce automation is the potential loss of jobs as machines and AI systems replace human labor. While some jobs may become obsolete, new roles might also emerge. Small businesses need to focus on reskilling and upskilling their workforce to adapt to these changes.
2. Initial Investment Costs: Implementing automation technologies often requires a significant upfront investment in hardware, software, and training. Small businesses may struggle to allocate resources for such investments, which could hinder their ability to compete with larger, more established companies.
3. Integration Challenges: Integrating new automation technologies with existing systems and processes can be complex and time-consuming. Small businesses may encounter difficulties in ensuring seamless integration, which could lead to disruptions in their operations and potential losses.
4. Skill Gaps: As automation becomes more prevalent, small businesses may struggle to find employees with the necessary skills to manage and maintain these systems. Addressing these skill gaps may require additional investments in training and education.
5. Data Security and Privacy: Automation systems often rely on large volumes of data, which can increase the risk of data breaches and privacy violations. Small businesses must implement robust security measures to protect sensitive information and comply with relevant regulations.
6. Loss of Human Touch: As businesses automate more processes, they risk losing the personal touch that can be crucial to building customer relationships and loyalty. Small businesses must strike the right balance between automation and human interaction to maintain their unique value proposition.
7. Ethical Considerations: The increasing reliance on AI and automation raises ethical concerns, such as bias in decision-making, accountability, and transparency. Small businesses must carefully consider these issues and implement ethical AI practices to avoid potential reputational damage and legal liabilities.
8. Overdependence on Technology: As small businesses become more reliant on automation, they may also become more vulnerable to system failures, technical glitches, or cyberattacks. It is essential to have contingency plans and backup systems in place to minimize disruptions and maintain business continuity.
9. Resistance to Change: Employees may be resistant to the adoption of automation technologies due to fear of job loss or the need to learn new skills. Small businesses must address these concerns by fostering a culture of innovation and continuous learning, ensuring that employees are informed, engaged, and supported throughout the transition process.
By understanding and mitigating these risks, small businesses can use artificial intelligence and workforce automation to their full advantage while minimizing potential negative impacts. This includes investing in employee training, ensuring seamless integration of new technologies, prioritizing data security, and maintaining a human-centric approach to customer service and business operations.
For now, the potential benefits of AI for small businesses outweigh the risks, although I question whether or not that will still be the case in a few years as human contributions to the productivity of the workforce dwindles to the point of perhaps no longer being required. For now, though, I consider “jumping on board” the only viable option for small businesses that are serious about remaining competitive and profitable.
The Future-Proof Business helps small businesses become future-proof by showing them how to anticipate and pivot around the trends that will impact their competitiveness in the future, and then implement the tools and technologies that will ensure their long-term profitability. Visit our Consulting or Leadership Development page to learn more, or contact us so we can explore how your business may benefit from the rapid advances in technology.
Marina von Bergen, MAM, ACC
My 23+ year career as a consultant, leadership development expert and executive coach in large global firms shifted in 2020 when I felt compelled to focus on consulting and coaching small to medium sized businesses that were negatively impacted by the pandemic. Since then, I have continued pursing my passion of helping small businesses and their leaders become future-proof by leveraging best-in-class trends, technologies, and tools. My official, professional expertise lies in consulting and coaching leaders in areas of change management, human capital, communications, emotional intelligence, and leadership development. I have helped organizations and leaders all around the globe, in many industries, and from countless walks of life. Visit The Future-Proof Business to learn more.