Love it or hate it, ChatGPT and other apps using artificial intelligence (AI) technology are becoming part of our lives. ChatGPT is an AI chatbot created by OpenAI that has harvested vast amounts of information and is able to use it to produce human-like responses. According to ChatGPT itself, “It can be used for a wide range of applications, including customer support, tutoring, content generation, and general-purpose chat interactions.”

There are similar programs such as Microsoft’s Bing Chat and Google’s Bard, but what they have in common is that they can transform the way we generate content and engage with information. As a small business owner, that could save you a lot of time. But it’s early days and there are still several unresolved issues.

AI Caramba! The pros and cons of ChatGPT

There are a lot of ways businesses can use ChatGPT to save time and money. For example, some uses include:

  • Generate content for a website or other forms of communication
  • Produce or debug programming code
  • Answer client queries in real time
  • Research and consolidate information
  • Translate content into different languages

Right now, it’s free to use ChatGPT. Set up an account and experiment for yourself. You could ask ChatGPT to generate an article about how small businesses could use AI and what risks they might face. Or get it to give you a list of SEO keywords to include in the article you’ve written. Or draft a note to a client. I used it yesterday to write a letter of complaint to my airline about a canceled flight. It can churn out hundreds of words in seconds.

The trouble? Those words may not be totally accurate. Ultimately, AI is only as good as the data that’s been inputted. So if it’s swallowed entire Reddit forums or large swathes of chat room content, who knows what it might burp out. You’ve probably met someone in real life who formed most of their opinions based on social media. Is that someone you’d want to put in a client-facing role?

AI also doesn’t have the same sense of right and wrong (both morally and in terms of an instinctive fact check) that a human researcher or writer might. Plus, if ChatGPT doesn’t know something — and doesn’t know that it doesn’t know — that might not stop it from answering. Experts have called this “hallucination”, and it’s one of the biggest dangers of using AI right now. That and the unresolved legal issues, which we’ll touch on further down.

It’s also worth pointing out that — as is often the case with new technology — there may already be existing, road-tested software that does the same thing. Let’s say you want to use AI to get deeper insights into your clients’ behavior and improve your communications. But new isn’t always better. There’s already some excellent customer service software on the market.

How ChatGPT could impact your business

If you’re a fruit seller or yoga instructor, it’s unlikely ChatGPT will change your day-to-day operations very much just yet. You might be able to use it to improve your client relationships and save time in certain areas. But other forms of AI may have a more significant impact on many industries. For example, some yoga studios are using AI to analyze people’s poses and give feedback. Farmers are using AI to up their game, by, for example, improving irrigation and detecting plant diseases early. Pay attention to AI applications so you can stay ahead of the curve.

However, if your business is based on any form, say, content creation or programming, ChatGPT could have a more immediate impact on your bottom line. A tool that can generate content or computer code quickly and cheaply can well tempt your existing clients. ChatGPT and similar programs are here, whether we like it or not. The question is, what can you do about it?

Part of the answer lies in understanding the limits of AI and pivoting your offer accordingly. For example, you might position your company as an expert in humanizing computer-generated content. There may well be a need for services that specialize in fact checking and polishing AI output. Or perhaps you’re able to add value by interviewing people or doing other things a computer can’t.

OpenAI recently changed its data usage policy. Unless you opt in, the information you input will not be used to train or improve the ChatGPT model. This is a big step forward, but you still need to be careful with sensitive data. If you input confidential client data into ChatGPT, you could be breaching your agreement with them.

Another thorny question is copyright and plagiarism. If you’re using content produced by AI, make sure you run it through a plagiarism checker. You don’t know where it got its words, and some could have been taken from a copyrighted source. More broadly, some argue that if ChatGPT is learned by scraping large quantities of online content, the original authors should give permission and receive compensation.

On the other side of the coin, there are questions about who owns the content ChatGPT produces. Let’s say you generate content for your blog using ChatGPT. In this case, you wouldn’t own the copyright to that content. Your competitor could ask ChatGPT the same question, and generate exactly the same content. Or copy and paste it from your site — you don’t own it.

Bottom line

There’s always a lot of hyperbole about new technology, and some of the issues people have raised about AI are certainly concerning. But as a small business owner, the trick is to understand what’s on offer and think about how you can use it to your advantage. AI can handle a bunch of everyday tasks, which could free you up to do things a computer can’t.

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