Startups are quick to announce that they use artificial intelligence (AI) technology to provide better results for their clients, streamline workflows, create products more efficiently, and offer software solutions far beyond those of their competitors. But while AI can provide tangible benefits to help you automate and grow your startup, you need to use it responsibly.
Let’s break down how you can do just that by reviewing some responsible AI practices.
The ‘typical’ way to ensure responsible AI practices
Most of the time, startups and established enterprises alike consider integrating AI tools or offering AI solutions to their customers with responsibility in mind. This is a good thing, of course. When used properly, AI and machine learning can, for example, reinvent your B2B marketing efforts and provide better sales insights.
But most responsible AI efforts begin with an initiative to build massive, resource-draining teams. In many cases, organizations will create entire departments for the ethical use of AI tools and put together teams of reviewers to double-check and triple-check AI products before they reach the market. Building a big team can get the job done, but it’s usually highly bureaucratic and, therefore, inefficient.
On top of that, many employees in your startup may not be equipped or experienced enough to provide good AI ethical advice in the first place. According to recent surveys, the majority of developers working today possess less than five years of experience. When you consider the fact that AI is a highly complex field and that even experts get it wrong sometimes, it’s clear that most startups aren’t able to field a whole team of AI ethics pros.
So, is a team of AI ethics reviewers really needed? Not really. Your startup doesn’t have to drain its limited budget and create an ethics team to ensure that you use AI responsibly.
Instead, you can implement responsible AI practices by using a few key strategies. This will benefit your business in a number of ways, such as by saving you the costs of hiring a complete ethics committee or diverting personnel hours away from other projects to review AI tools over and over again.
How to leverage AI safely and responsibly
You definitely want to leverage AI technology to provide better products for your customers, streamline workflows, provide chatbot assistance, and more. To implement these solutions responsibly, here are five smart, ethical approaches that will allow you to leverage AI technology for your employees and your customers.
Minimal is manageable.
For starters, always use as little AI as is needed to get the job done. Don’t just use AI for the sake of saying you use AI. Keep in mind that minimal AI involvement is more manageable AI involvement. You can still benefit from the streamlining effects of AI – such as tools that automate certain parts of your production workflows – without taking control completely away from your employees.
The more AI you use, the more your organization is at risk of breaking if there is a baked-in problem.
Lean toward user input and control.
Another way you can sustainably and responsibly use AI is to offer users more control over their devices or software solutions. Don’t leverage AI to take control away from your consumers. Instead, give as much control to the user as possible while still retaining the benefits of the tech.
Average consumers are certainly not afraid of advanced tech tools – or at least not as much as they used to be. In fact, consumer spending is up overall – comprising around 60% of the U.S. economy’s activity – and most of that buying is happening online. Especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, people are more open to tools that can simplify or personalize their experiences.
With this in mind, your startup should lean toward giving your users increased control over their products. Many customers will use a product more effectively or have a better experience with it if they are allowed to customize it or adjust the controls beforehand. Plus, by giving your consumers more control over the products you make, they’ll form more of an attachment to those tools or solutions and come to review them more positively.
Give users decision-making tools.
By the same token, you should give your product users as many options to make decisions as possible. This includes employees if you use AI for your internal workflows, or end-consumers if you use AI for software solutions and similar products.
This is partially because AI-based solutions almost always provide output recommendations, but humans have to make the final decisions. You can avoid harmful recommendations by offering more opportunities for people to interfere.
Not only does this prevent disastrous workflow outcomes, but it also helps your AI learn from its mistakes and become a more valuable, reliable tool over time. Don’t delegate decisions away from users; give those users the tools to make more decisions in conjunction with AI recommendations.
The resulting workflows or products will be more accurate or more successful than otherwise.
Consider who really benefits.
If you are building or leveraging AI tools in your business, consider who will use them in the end. Many AI products end up serving executives or managers rather than the consumers or workers who interact with them most frequently.
For example, automated scheduling systems have historically been disastrous for the workers whose schedules are dictated by cold, unfeeling algorithms. This resulted in great labor management for the executive office, but uncomfortable working conditions and low morale for front-line employees.
You should only ever leverage AI when it will actually provide benefits for the people who will use it the most. Don’t just throw AI into your workflows or into your products for no reason.
Avoid buzzword hype.
It’s all too tempting for startups to gain traction or traffic by advertising their products with “AI improvements” or similar buzzwords. Your startup should avoid this temptation at all costs. Simply put, buzzword hype is a real and negative force and it can lead your team to rely on AI more than it should.
AI tools can be very effective, but they are not end-all-be-all solutions for workflow problems, nor can they make a mediocre product a stellar one. Double down what makes your workflows or products run. Then use AI to amplify those positives or benefits, not replace them entirely.
In the end, building and using AI responsibly is key for your startup’s efficient workflows, for the products you offer to your customers, and more. When leveraged correctly, AI can make your startup much more efficient, particularly in the age of remote work. But you don’t want to rely on AI too much, nor do you want to develop or leverage it improperly.
Remember to consider the end-user for any AI tool or software solution, and never take full control away from your consumers or employees. The bottom line is, the people, not the products, are the key to successful AI integration.
Originally published Nov. 19, 2021.