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Artificial intelligence (AI) is being introduced to the global economy at an unprecedented rate. Although AI has transformed countless industries and aspects of life over the past few decades, the technology is becoming more prevalent and accessible to the general public, startups, small businesses and even children. This has sparked conversations across the globe about both the benefits and risks of AI technology.
With the launch of platforms like ChatGPT in 2022, governments are scrambling to figure out how to address the potential harm that could come from the mass adoption and use of AI. Some countries like Italy have gone as far as banning ChatGPT fearing that AI is advancing faster than humans will be able to adapt. This could result in myriad social and ethical problems that we are unprepared to tackle.
For small business owners and entrepreneurs, AI can significantly level the playing field with large corporations and provide numerous advantages. The good news is that it’s possible to embrace AI while working to ensure that it is used safely and ethically.
1. Job displacement
The number one concern for most people is that AI-driven automation could displace human workers, leading to job losses and increased unemployment. Although entrepreneurs can leverage AI to discover new business opportunities, increase team productivity and minimize impacts on overhead, increased unemployment across the greater workforce could disrupt the ability of small businesses to thrive in a healthy economy.
To avoid or mitigate this challenge, governments and businesses will need to invest in education and retraining programs to help workers transition to new job opportunities created by AI. Workers who can adapt to the changing world of AI will remain more competitive in the evolving job market.
2. Privacy and surveillance
AI has a wide range of applications to track and record the activities of real humans including social media monitoring, facial recognition and video analytics. For privacy advocates, this raises concerns about data collection, misuse and the infringement on personal privacy. Small businesses that use AI need to make sure that their employees and customers are protected from privacy breaches by looking for ways to ethically collect, store and use personal information.
3. Bias and discrimination
Although AI is designed to operate independently with little to no input from humans, the underlying algorithms are designed by people. AI can inadvertently perpetuate existing biases presented in the data it is trained on, which could lead to discriminatory outcomes. As entrepreneurs, it’s important to recognize these potential pitfalls and take proactive measures to ensure that the AI tools and services you deploy are fair and equitable.
4. Business inequality
Artificial intelligence is positioned to be a major disruptor in the business world giving smaller companies similar technological power as global corporations. Small businesses that embrace the technology will gain a significant advantage over their closest competitors. However, this could create an environment where investment in AI technology could lead to unfair advantages. Small businesses simply don’t have the same resources as major corporations to invest in the most cutting-edge AI technology.
5. AI decision-making
In the future, businesses might rely heavily on AI to help drive strategic business decisions. For example, an entrepreneur might use artificial intelligence to decide if their business should expand into a new market. The challenge is that AI might make errors that cause the company to make poor business decisions. AI can have the potential to provide innovative solutions and feedback, but entrepreneurs need to have processes in place to validate and verify the recommendations made by AI systems.
6. Warfare and human safety
Unless you operate a small business that works as a defense contractor, this likely won’t apply to you. However, there are major concerns that AI could be used to develop weapons or other tools that have a direct impact on human life. There are even concerns with non-military applications such as robots that are trained to rescue people from burning buildings.
Entrepreneurs and small business owners in the defense sector need to be particularly mindful of these concerns and contribute to discussions about responsible AI use in warfare and ensure that their business practices align with international humanitarian laws and other ethical guidelines.
7. Impacts on mental health
The growing role of AI in daily life could have adverse effects on mental health and social interactions as people become more reliant on AI-driven technologies. These impacts can have significant societal and economic costs that could come from an exacerbated mental health crisis. Companies and governments need to think about how AI can be deployed in a way that doesn’t damage the well-being of the people who use the technology.
8. Environmental impact
The energy consumption of AI technologies and data centers can contribute to climate change and other environmental issues. ChatGPT required the same power as 120 U.S. homes just to train. Entrepreneurs and small business owners should be mindful of the environmental impact of their AI-driven operations and take steps to minimize their ecological footprint.
Eco-conscious business owners can work to adopt energy-efficient AI technologies and data center operations and promote the use of renewable energy in their businesses.
9. AI governance
We’re just scratching the surface when it comes to AI’s capabilities. Entrepreneurs and small business owners will need to stay up-to-date on the latest AI regulations, ethical guidelines and best practices in their industry. This will help ensure that your business practices align with the responsible development and deployment of AI.
It’s also important to foster a culture of responsible AI use within your organization, especially if your team is authorized or encouraged to actively look for ways to use AI for business purposes.
So, are we on the verge of the next stage in human development? Perhaps a utopia where AI does most of the work and humans work fewer hours? Or are we ushering in a new world full of Terminator-esque robots that want to destroy us? Only time will tell. Fortunately, we can all influence the development of this new technology. Each of us has a part to play in working proactively to address the many social and ethical concerns that AI could introduce. Small business owners are a major force in our global economy and can have a lot of influence on how the power of AI is harnessed. It’s up to all of us to continue to drive the conversations necessary to deploy safe and ethical AI solutions.