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AI: Pushing the Boundaries of (Ethical) Possibility

A driving force behind some of the most transformative innovations in recent years, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing the way people and businesses operate. By allowing for automated tasks, improved efficiencies, and data-driven decisions, it is shaping the way we live and work.  

While AI technology has already helped many organizations make great strides in a multitude of areas, newer and more advanced developments on the horizon will push business leaders to continual adaptation of their strategies in order to stay competitive.

AI is pushing the boundaries of what we once considered possible. There are some, however, who feel it does more to cast a shadow than enhance lives. 

A Modern Amenity 

AI is evolving at an unprecedented rate and continues to reshape the way businesses operate, innovate, and stay competitive. What began as an automation tool to relieve workers from laborious, repetitive tasks has turned into streamlined advancements such as instantaneous support chatbots who engage in simple conversations day or night. AI in business offers practical solutions and enhancements with the potential to drive real value for organizations. AI powered automation is expanding rapidly.  

Today, a number of companies are using AI to assist with specific business processes. As the range of applications continues to broaden, more and more industries will gain the ability to utilize the technology to their advantage.  

For example, AI is being used in manufacturing to optimize production, improve quality control, and predict maintenance needs. In retail, AI helps businesses impress their customers by personalizing recommendations, optimizing pricing and inventory management, and improving supply chain efficiency. AI is even being utilized in the seemingly “low-tech” field of agriculture. Irrigation plans, livestock production, and the prediction of crop yields can be streamlined and improved with the help of artificial intelligence programs. 

AI influences back-office operations through robotic streamlining. It can analyze behaviors and preferences in an effort to suggest tailored services, products, and content to the customer experience. Even most recently, AI is being used to generate church sermons. 

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However difficult to believe, the technology behind artificial intelligence is still in its infancy – although its development is picking up speed.  

In 1965, Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel made a prediction based on observation. He noticed that the number of transistors able to fit into a given unit of space within an integrated circuit (commonly known as a microchip) doubled over the course of two years. His concept, known as Moore’s Law, explains that many technologies roughly double their capabilities and efficiencies every two years.  

The increased efficiency of transistors creates computers that are smaller, faster, and less expensive to produce. For example, a new Ultra 4K High-Definition TV that cost $20,000 in 2012 retails for less than $1,000 today. Although Moore’s Law isn’t a scientific fact, it has held true over the last six decades. 

In 2022, AI laboratory, Open AI, launched a preview of its new chatbot, ChatGPT. Unlike its predecessors, ChatGPT has advanced natural language capabilities that closely mimic real human speech and writing. It understands and can generate fluent responses in many languages including English, Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Arabic, and Hebrew. It also knows programming languages like Python, Java, C++, and C#. 

Since the release of ChatGPT, some experts have speculated that it represents a tipping point in the realm of artificial intelligence. Seemingly overnight, the notion of what is possible with AI expanded so much that humans are still grappling, months later, with what it means for their lives, their businesses, and the future. 

With numerous similar programs soon to be released by other companies, as well as the continuing development of AI in other areas, one thing is clear: the genie isn’t going back in the bottle.  

Ethical Dilemmas

While some will utilize it more than others, virtually every industry will be touched by AI at some point in the near or distant future. This realization has prompted much debate about the ethical concerns surrounding AI’s prevalence in our culture, and more specifically, in our businesses. For example: 

1. Limitations: Several concerns relate to the limitations within the AI perimeters. AI technology was created and programmed by humans. Even with the best of intentions, humans carry inherent biases which are difficult to filter out of the programming process. Artificial intelligence can therefore generate outcomes that, subtly or explicitly, discriminate against certain users. 

For instance, in the mid-2010s, a hiring software developed by Amazon had to be scrapped entirely because the engineers were unable to create a version that didn’t systematically discriminate against women. Despite this apparent pitfall, a majority of companies in the U.S. use some form of AI during the hiring process.  

2. Availability and Reliability: Because AI systems are trained on data, they can only perform their duties to the extent that the inputs adopted are complete and accurate. If a company doesn’t have its data well organized and audited, the AI system it implements will be unable to render optimal results.  

This issue can be particularly troublesome if the company is unaware of the flaws in its own data and relies heavily on technology to make important decisions. As such, it is essential for organizations considering adopting AI solutions to conduct a thorough review of the relevant data, correct the errors, and fill in the information gaps before implementing the system. 

3. Threat to Human Employment: A philosophical conundrum, the more that companies introduce automated technologies, the less a human workforce is needed to perform certain functions. It is apparent that many corporations are using chatbots to perform basic customer service roles. Numerous other ‘back-office’ processes are also being replaced by computers such as detecting and reconciling billing errors, transferring data from one system to another, and updating customer files. 

In December 2022, McDonald’s unveiled its first ever “robot restaurant” in Texas. This mostly automated location relies on machines instead of people for the entire ordering and pickup process. While the hamburger giant still employs a limited crew of personnel at this location, the existence of such a business model spotlights the debate about whether AI could, or should, someday replace the majority of human jobs. 

Though our society is unlikely to reach a consensus on this topic in the near future, AI has proven to be a mainstay in the modern economy regardless of our personal feelings about it. With this fact in mind, it is important for both business leaders and policymakers to carefully consider the potential implications of AI when making decisions regarding the workforce. 

A Bright Future 

Like everything in the known universe, technology is subject to the limitations of physics. Moore’s Law was once predicted to end around 2025. Now, thanks to innovations in quantum technology, scientists and engineers are using new materials and techniques to drive Moore’s Law further into the future.  

Someday, even new technologies will reach their physical limitations. However, that doesn’t mean technological advancement will halt when the number of transistors on a microchip double for the last time. Just as today’s smart phones would mystify a 19th-century scientist, technology of the future will likely be built on processes beyond our current comprehension.  

To some business leaders, this notion might prompt a sense of unease. It’s true that the advancement of AI will probably make some human-driven services obsolete. Those who work in such industries will need to find ways to pivot their business models or risk falling behind. For many, however, artificial intelligence can help business thrive by acting as a tool and collaborator.  

The pattern is revealing that business leaders and entrepreneurs who embrace the capabilities of artificial intelligence will almost certainly have an advantage going into the next era of technology. Likewise, employees who know how to communicate fluently with AI programs to prompt desirable outcomes will become valued contributors. 

As we move into the future, AI’s evolution will encompass increased prevalence and sophistication, playing a heightened, critical role in the business world. While there are concerns and challenges to address, the potential benefits are vast and varied.  

For those companies that choose to embrace such technology, it will be important to invest in training and development for employees, as well as establish clear guidelines and ethical standards for the use of AI. It will also be crucial for these companies to stay up to date on the latest advances and continue adapting their processes as needed.  

Whether driven by AI or reliant on the input and output of the human brain and body, businesses thrive when the right tools and strategies are appropriate and in place. Regardless of the approach, in today’s fast-paced and competitive world, it still boils down to the fact that knowledge and preparedness are key. 

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