AI as a Tool: Seeing the Hammer for What It Is

Welcome to this week's edition of The Small Business Corner!

I come across a lot of social media posts and conversations mainly dunking on ChatGPT and other AI tools.

The central argument I’ve been seeing consistently is something like this, and I summarise and paraphrase: “AI tools make things up. They sound robotic. They lack common sense. They will never be like humans. They are bad at producing coherent text. They can’t solve basic puzzles that require an understanding of context that only humans can achieve.”

These points and arguments make sense to a certain extent, of course.

Maybe the problem is a marketing one, namely, calling it artificial intelligence. This makes us automatically look for shortcomings of the tool at hand. “No way it can be smarter than us! It can’t even solve the farmer crossing the river puzzle! A 10-year-old can solve that!”

But I think adopting this often cynical approach makes us prone to easily miss how powerful AI as a tool can be.

If you set aside the idea that these tools, at least for now, are not really intelligent in the human sense of the word, it is well worth exploring the vast potential of AI as a tool.

Think about it like this: it’s as though we get offered a hammer, and instead of using it to nail in nails, we complain that it’s not sharp enough to cut wood.

Of course, if you rely on GPT to write things from scratch, the result will be generic. GPT actually sounds like a typical university academic. If you read everything I wrote back when I was a university professor, long before GPT was created, you might think it was written by it.

But so far, AI tools, including GPT, have been very helpful for me. I use them to edit the grammar and syntax of my writing (which is especially handy if English is not your native tongue). I've also used them to create simple code to automate daily tasks, brainstorm, create content calendars, structure reports, and analyse data.

AI tools can be extremely powerful if you know what you want, and you don’t depend on it to do the research for you or write everything from scratch—which is where it can start making things up. But if you know what you want, have the data, or are trying to tinker with code that can easily be verified, then it can be an amazing and powerful tool.

Yesterday I read this interesting post from Seth Godin: The Western Union Trap. It may not be directly tied with the topic at hand, but it does somehow apply. “When the telephone began to gain traction, the monopoly of the time, Western Union, decided to get even better at sending telegrams.”

The question is: are you spending time dunking on what AI tools can’t do, and doubling down on the things you are already familiar with? Or are you exploring new venues and using AI to seize new opportunities and see where that leads?

Quote of the Week

“If you want useful answers, learn to ask better questions.
In most cases, you'll need to tailor the form of the question to the type of information you're seeking.” — Josh Kaufman

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