AI is having a real-world impact in multiple sectors. It’s already massively influenced businesses that are now slowly evolving, completely pivoting or springing up seemingly out of nowhere. AI-ification has begun, and it’s going to continue at a faster rate.
This trend is significant, and it’s been bubbling under the surface for a while. “The development of AI is as fundamental as the creation of the microprocessor, the personal computer, the Internet, and the mobile phone,” said Bill Gates in a blog on his website. It’s fundamental that you get involved, however you possibly can.
Virtually any business, however big or small, in whatever industry, would benefit from integrating AI or even overhauling its processes using AI. But here’s the massive opportunity for entrepreneurs: if they can move quicker than established businesses, they can enter the market with an AI-powered version of the exact same business at a fraction of the cost. The average entrepreneur will be left behind and the exceptional will soar ahead with this exact strategy of AI-ification.
What is AI-ification?
AI-ification is the process by which a business’ output can be replicated entirely or in part using AI. AI-ification, if implemented effectively, can reduce costs, dramatically ramp up output and potentially improve quality in a big way.
With the AI boom in full swing, entrepreneurs have already turned to new AI tools to improve their businesses. They’re AI-ifying their businesses by creating content in all formats faster, better or cheaper. They’re replacing multiple team members and freelancers using technology or they’re offering new products and services. Some are acting from fear and thinking too small, some are experimenting out of pure intrigue, and some are going one step further in creating their own tools.
We’ve seen something similar before. Uberfication means the conversion of existing jobs and services into discrete tasks that can be requested on-demand, as popularized by the business model of the ride hailing app Uber. How many times have you heard something described as “the Uber for…” followed by whatever industry a new app is disrupting: private jet hire, grocery shopping, photographer booking, home beauty services or holiday home renting. Uberfication was and still is huge for business, and many startups that followed this model are thriving today.
AI-ification means transforming an existing business model with artificial intelligence, and the possibilities are endless. The AI-ification of headshot photography means you upload selfies and the headshots are generated for you. The AI-ification of podcasting means formats, scripts, show notes and even audio recordings are produced without a human speaking a word. Think of any business and imagine the AI-ification of its purpose and processes. Start building the future based on what you see.
What is the opportunity?
Artificial intelligence in its current form is giving entrepreneurs the opportunity to completely disrupt existing industry leaders if they can get a few steps ahead. Ambitious and adaptable founders or budding entrepreneurs can adopt an AI-ification approach, aiming to create “the AI version of…” a certain business that already has product market fit and high revenue. The goal is to offer it better, faster and cheaper.
Like a supermarket but powered by AI. Like a consultant but delivered using AI. Like a book, restaurant, course, class, but reimagined using artificial intelligence to ultimately bring greater utility to the consumer, who can be served at scale without the clunkiness once required.
Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who has taken part in investing over $2 billion in AI-focused companies since 2017, can see the opportunity for businesses, with his advice that entrepreneurs should, “run as fast as they can to this.” He believes, “if you don’t get there first, somebody else will, and then you’re going to be in trouble.”
But where should you look to apply AI-ification? Gates identified global health and education as “two areas where there’s great need and not enough workers to meet those needs.” Hospitals, doctors and schools are squeezed in many countries, marking opportunity for smart entrepreneurs to AI-ify solutions to the challenges out there, reducing inequality at the same time.
Why are entrepreneurs so well-positioned to benefit from AI-ification? They are simply more agile, governed by less red tape, with fewer team members around to express their concerns. They can try and fail many times, supported by their existing company. They can place bets and see where they lead and the downside is minimal because they can fail quietly. If they get it right, however, news spreads. Customers of an established service hearing they can get it elsewhere, faster, better and for less money, risk little from trying it out. Suddenly, a new AI tool has a growing base of customers who have no reason to jump ship again.
The proficiency of AI right now is miniscule compared to what will be possible in the future, so it makes sense to get your head start as soon as you can. “We’re only at the beginning of what AI can accomplish,” said Gates. “Whatever limitations it has today will be gone before we know it.”
Schmidt offered advice as to how a business could use AI to “improve its revenue, reach, profitability, scale.” He would take, “Google-level engineers” and say, “I’m not going to tell you what to do. I just want you to study our business and how we deal with our customers and our technology platform. And I just want you to make it smarter.” To you and me, that’s AI-ification. For a brand new business, or within an existing business: make it smarter using artificial intelligence.
What are the risks?
The main risk is that you don’t incorporate AI-ification into your business. You keep doing the same thing in the same way and someone else overtakes you with seemingly less effort. If you have limited resources, this risk could be very real. You might not know where to start, you can’t gauge when to go all in and you’re not sure where to pull the cash and time from in your existing operation.
After that, the risk is that you downplay the effort required for AI-ification. Schmidt says underestimation is common when, “people who are well-meaning, but not very technical” decide to hire a consultant. “That’s not how it works,” he said, “You actually have to do the hard work. You have to actually find the engineers. Unfortunately, it’s not like email, which you can just turn on and it works.” Developing algorithms and applying machine learning solutions to business processes is not a plug-and-play situation. Adopt a beginner’s mind so you don’t blunder with naivety.
Another risk is the downside of AI in general, over which businesses have due cause for fear. When copyright worries keep cropping up, jobs are at stake, and we don’t know if this technology has sinister motives, it’s easy to be swept away in conspiracy and focused on the “what ifs.” Gates said this has to come with balance, “We should try to balance fears about the downsides of AI—which are understandable and valid—with its ability to improve people’s lives.” Schmidt also thinks that, “It’s important that our systems not enable the worst of us, but instead promote the best of us.”
Wherever artificial intelligence is right now, it’s going to take giant leaps in the not-so-distant future. At some point, all businesses will adopt AI in some capacity if they haven’t already. Expect multiple AI-ified business models. Expect AI-ification to be the new Uberfication. Buy your .ai domain name, because you’re about to need it. Entrepreneurs who can thrive amidst change and adapt quicker than others will be the ones who win. Welcome to the Age of AI, that is filled with both opportunities and responsibilities. The main responsibility of ambitious entrepreneurs is to not miss out.