Artificial intelligence, which just a decade ago was closer to the realm of science fiction than fact, has rapidly become one of the hottest trends across the technology universe. AI has the potential to redefine many of the tools and methods we use for analysis, learning, and interpreting the world around us. The technology is already gaining traction in the business community where experts predict that it will be a driving force over the next decade.
For businesses today, adopting AI is an increasingly pressing necessity regardless of company size or scope. A study by McKinsey & Company found that the market could potentially create at least $3.5 trillion in business opportunities across several industries. For small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), AI is no longer a wish list item, but a real need to remain competitive.
Even so, AI appears to be following an all-too-familiar path. Despite its truly game changing potential, already there are signs that it is becoming another tool of the elite, deployed by the largest corporations and largely walled off from both smaller businesses and individuals who could propel innovation. This status quo pushes further societal rifts and begs the question—would we not be better served opening AI’s capabilities to everyone?
AI’s potential and its pitfalls
It is difficult to understate AI’s potential across industries and fields of research. Technology that is billed as the future is incredibly reliant on AI, such as driverless vehicles, which employ the technology as a core component for their seamless operation. Even in smaller applications, such as data analytics and machine learning, AI has already made a dent in the way we interact with the enormous amounts of data and information our world generates.
In the world of SMEs, AI has already flexed its muscles and is leveling the playing field for businesses. Indeed, a large portion of SMEs believe that AI is a major aspect to their continued survival. A September survey by MIT’s Sloan Management Review revealed that 91% of all enterprises believe AI will deliver new growth. Moreover, 66% of SMEs surveyed by Intuit showed that they already use AI and automation technology. According to a 2017 study conducted by PwC, the technology could boost global GDP by 14%–or $15.7 trillion—by 2030.
Nevertheless, AI is at risk of being lost to mass markets, as the large corporations have huge budgets to develop and grow data science teams, leaving SMEs in the dust. SMEs will never have access to unlimited, large budgets to compete with large scale AI development.
Renowned philosopher Yuval Harari notes that technology is intrinsically connected to our ideas about democracy and free access. In his mind, the current state of de-liberalization we’re experiencing has to do with our technology. Harari notes that, “the technology that favored democracy is changing, and as artificial intelligence develops, it might change further.” To Harari, the singular power of AI to learn about and understand us—from our basic information to predicting our interests, possible decisions, and more—could become a force that drives a further wedge between those with access to the technology, and the rest of us.
AI for the masses
Instead of the current heavy focus on business and corporatization, AI must be used as a tool that helps us understand our world—without the reliance on the likes of Facebook or Google. The first step is to democratize access to AI. One important component to enabling this , is to hold the companies which develop AI tools more accountable. Microsoft, for instance, is building systems that simplify the use of AI for building relevant tools, and even Uber is offering its own machine-learning-as-a-service tools.
Additionally, we must continue building and developing AI technologies that will drive down costs significantly. As it stands, the reason corporations have a large edge against SMEs and the broader public is oftentimes the prohibitive cost attached to using it. In both terms of hardware and software, AI remains a rich man’s tool. By building systems that take advantage of developments like open source, cloud, and other low-cost and high-power solutions, AI can become more accessible to a broader population.
On a more practical level, AI must be used outside of business, or at the very least, adjacent to it. The expansion of fields of study such as social physics and dynamics, alongside more complex analytical modeling, means that AI could quickly find a home among academics, and thus build a following of “regular” users. Finally, opening the doors of AI is another guarantee that the technology will continue its own outward expansion.
In summary, its exciting to be living in a time of such innovation and AI is at the forefront of innovative technology. Many companies are building solutions aimed at small and medium sized businesses, in addition to offerings for large corporations. AI for the SME business segment will bring a real disruption to the industry and we need to make sure more companies are focused on enabling this sector of the market.