The sudden rise of generative artificial intelligence has led the world’s biggest tech companies to invest billions. For $20 a month, any small business can start using artificial intelligence, which can ultimately make a difference in the cost of their operations and the scale of the company they want to grow.
That’s the message from Harvard Business School professor Karim Lakhani, who has studied technology for 30 years and says the oldest adage about artificial intelligence in computer science is as true on Main Street as it is in Silicon Valley.
“Machines won’t replace people, but people with machines will replace people without machines,” Lakhani said Wednesday at CNBC’s Small Business Playbook virtual event.
For small business owners, Lakhani said, the AI journey should start by looking at three platforms: OpenAI’s ChatGPT+ (available for $20 per month), Microsoft’s Bing Chat (free), and Poe, which offers access to a variety of apps. gene AI tools. Starting to experiment with these tools will quickly show small business owners the power AI offers for their core tasks.
OpenAI with Microsoft – Bing on mobile, as seen in this photo illustration.
Jonathan Raa | Nurfoto | Getty Images
He mentioned three areas in particular:
- Communication with all consumers.
- As a brainstormer for new business ideas.
- As a “super helper”, owners who can handle most of the “workers” today face alone.
While there has been criticism of the AI for “hallucinations,” meaning inaccurate search results, Lakhani said business owners shouldn’t shy away from it. This is a real issue, but it’s not an important example of how a small business should start using the tools.
“I think of ChatGPT as a thought partner, devaluing insight and new ideas,” Lakhani said.
One example: a venture capitalist working with immigrant owners of lawn care and fencing businesses in California. The owners didn’t have great English skills, and using translation services for email-to-text customer communication campaigns could be expensive. “Now these entrepreneurs could put their ‘broken English’ into ChatGPT and get perfect Harvard or Oxford English, whatever English you want. Now they had this superpower,” he said.
The same business logic applies to an e-commerce seller on a platform like Shopify who wants to translate a website into multiple languages for other markets, which can be costly with traditional translation services.
Dealing with AI and angry customers
Small business owners can take angry customer emails that need to be addressed and ask ChatGPT for options on how best to handle them, and have a set of bullet points ready to go to calm customers down. “He will come up with options,” Lakhani said.
The same goes for positive customer communication. “Enabling employees to ChatGPT will help with all marketing copy,” he said. “Incorporating ChatGPT into this process will be good and efficient,” he said.
When small businesses need to come up with social media campaigns on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter) and TikTok, ChatGPT can generate “surprisingly actionable ideas,” Lakhani said. “It thinks with you.”
And this should be extended to gen AI imaging tools like Midjourney, DALL-E and Stability AI.
Ultimately, Lakhani says, AI will prove critical to three keys to business success: scale, scope and continuous learning. It’s about how many more customers you can serve, how many products and services you can create, and how business owners can keep learning. “The operating model, how you deliver value, can be strengthened,” he said.
Where to start learning AI
According to Lakhani, the place to start is YouTube.
“YouTube is your friend. I can’t tell you how much I’ve benefited from this revolution… I spend a lot of time on YouTube. There are great creators who spend all their time and effort thinking. Problems and solutions through ChaGPT and gen AI. Let’s build a crash course on YouTube start. It has a great AI algo that guides you along the way,” he said.
The main thing is to start and practice. “You have to learn how to apply it and know its great benefits but also its limitations,” he said.
In his life as an academic, Lakhani says he thinks of gen AI as a thinking partner, a sparring partner and a copy editor. “ChatGPT never gets mad at me for changing my mind, asking it a million things,” he said. But turning AI into a thought partner can only happen through experimentation, and unlike big businesses burdened by bureaucracy, small businesses have the advantage of being nimble and able to embark on this AI journey without any friction or delay.
“ChatGPT is an Ironman suit,” Lakhani said. “Tony Stark isn’t a superhero or a god. He’s just a human being. That’s what next-generation AI and AI tools can do for every worker. This is your AI power suit. … A team of 10 people can have a footprint. 1000,” he said.