Artificial intelligence is all around us
Using his own intelligence, Bill Bennett discusses AI’s current and potential uses for business owners. Artificial intelligence is no longer the stuff of science fiction. It’s here and it’s all around us. If you are active online you probably come across it most working days. Corporations raced to adopt artificial intelligence (AI). They use it […]
Using his own intelligence, Bill Bennett discusses AI’s current and potential uses for business owners.
Artificial intelligence is no longer the stuff of science fiction. It’s here and it’s all around us.
If you are active online you probably come across it most working days.
Corporations raced to adopt artificial intelligence (AI). They use it to automate everyday processes as they look to cut costs and navigate skills shortages. T
However, the results aren’t always great from their customers’ point of view. Quality can suffer. Mistakes are made. Customers can find it frustrating to speak to a robot or exchange text with a chatbot when they want to talk to a human.
Yet there’s no question AI can have an immediate productivity pay-off and boost revenue.
AI and small business
You might think AI isn’t for smaller companies that don’t have technology professionals on the team. Nothing could be further from the truth. While small businesses don’t have the resources to build complex AI systems, there are inexpensive off-the-shelf products and services they can buy that use AI. Often AI is being wrapped into existing products or services those small companies already buy, such as Microsoft Office.
If anything, small businesses have more to gain from AI than the larger firms. AI can let them punch well above their weight, save money and accelerate business growth.
Microsoft Designer illustrates the potential of AI for a small business. It is a clever tool that uses AI to produce artwork in seconds. In Microsoft’s words: “start with an idea and let the AI do the heavy lifting”.
You can use one of your own images or get the AI to draw something from scratch; then use the results to produce posters, online ads, invitations, Instagram posts or anything else that brings together images and words. It will build the entire design from the ground up when you simply click your mouse.
If you haven’t seen it in action already, go online and find Microsoft Designer at designer.microsoft.com. Designer is free if you have a Microsoft 365 account, and there are similar AI design tools from Canva and Adobe.
In the past you would have needed to hire a design professional to do this kind of work. A set of posters, ads and invitations might have cost hundreds of dollars. The design professionals might have come up with a draft image or two before settling on a concept and delivering the finished design hours or days later and at a considerable cost. Then making changes at this stage could be expensive and time consuming.
Microsoft Designer offers you multiple alternatives to refine. If you don’t like any of them, you can always make a few tweaks, change fonts, update the text and get fresh examples in seconds. Change the size or shape of an image and the software will automatically reformat your finished artwork.
Of course, the first step is to get the right image. If you have something on file, it will work with that. If not, you can use Bing Image Creator. (Bing is a Microsoft brand name).
The technology is smart, you simply give the software a text description of the image as a prompt, and it will generate it. The examples I’ve shown here are: “woman drinking takeaway coffee” and “woman sharing a takeaway coffee”. In each case Image Creator supplied four options; these were the best ones.
You can also try more complex or abstract terms. The software is clever enough to make sense of your prompts if you write them in plain English. Designer can also generate captions and even hashtags to make your online marketing material more discoverable with search engines.
However, Microsoft Designer is not problem free. AI pulls its images from millions of online images. At times it could create something that might look a lot like someone else’s work.
That could land you in trouble for copyright infringement.
More potential uses
There’s a good chance you receive AI created marketing email. Marketing email is often made up of stock phrases and ideas. It can sound robotic and impersonal when written by a human, so a switch to AI goes largely unnoticed.
Gmail has used AI to detect and deflect spam email for years. AI copes well with shifting targets, as spammers change their approach, the AI adapts.
You may have used AI to answer incoming emails in your business without thinking about it. Gmail uses AI to compose simple one sentence responses. it also offers autocomplete. The same AI-based autocomplete turns up in Google Docs.
Autocomplete works because it has been trained by reading millions of other people’s emails. It can make a decent guess at where any part-written text snippet is going. When you hear about AI writing articles, academic articles or anything else longer than a few paragraphs it works in a similar way. In effect, it pulls together hundreds of other people’s words on the same subject.
This is why, when you see an autocomplete attempt to finish your sentence in a Gmail reply, it can, at times, appear to be psychic. The software has seen the proceeding words before and knows where most other writers were going.
While there are products which can help, or claim they can help, you compose emails and responses, at the time of writing there is nothing that can take charge and deal with them properly without needing your input.
The closest we’ve seen to date is Google’s Duet AI. It’s part of Google’s Workplace Labs and is experimental at this stage. There is a waiting list if you are a Google Workspace customer and want to use it.
When you use Duet AI, you see prompt examples to get you started. You can use one of these or go with your own idea, such as “write a follow-up email to Jane Smith thanking her for last week’s meeting”. You click create and the software takes a stab at the email. The more details you provide, the better the end result.
An alternative way to use Duet AI is to write using your own words, then ask the software to clean it up or create a more formal version, a shorter version or add more information. Older readers will remember secretaries were often good at this.
For now, AI email requires time and effort on your part, exactly the things AI promises to reduce. Yet the AI scene is moving so fast that experts say it won’t be long before you’ll be able to get on with other work while a bot handles those routine email enquiries.
Photo: AI produced “woman sharing a takeaway coffee”.
Bill Bennett is an Auckland-based business IT writer and commentator. [email protected]