AI Is Changing How We Do Business – Even In South Africa

Business owners can learn to understand what AI can do for their companies now, or continue to think we're still far behind the curve – and end up behind their competitors as a result.
AI Is Changing How We Do Business – Even In South Africa
Image credit: Dean Furman
Entrepreneur Staff
Editor-in-Chief: Entrepreneur.com South Africa
7 min read

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Vital Stats

  • Player: Dean Furman
  • Company: CEO of 1064 Degrees, an innovation consultancy
  • Visit: 1064degrees.com

Dean Furman is the inventor of the Dawn of Disruption Game and experience, which focuses on teaching players about AI and disruption within a business context. He is the author of the book Exponential Potential, and is passionate about the role AI has to play in our future.

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He believes that Artificial Intelligence is not only being looked at in the wrong way by many business owners and executives, but that even though many people still think that this it’s only something that should be embraced by data scientists and hot-shot tech companies, AI is actually for every company and every person.

Q. What is AI, and where are perceptions still behind the new reality?

Artificial Intelligence was a term coined in 1956 at a conference that was set up in Dartmouth University in America, where scientists discussed whether it was possible to get computers to do things previously reserved for human beings, such as identify objects, understand language and detect patterns. 

Everyone at the conference agreed that this was possible, but computers were still far too slow and data too limited to turn their theories into practice. 

Now, with the huge amounts of data available and the super-fast speed of modern computers, the theoretical methods that were suggested back in 1956, and advanced since, are being used in practically every industry to replace and enhance work previously done by humans. Now, this history lesson is important. The aim of AI is to do things as well or better than human beings. 

This means that AI is relevant to any company that has people working for them, and that is pretty much every company in the world.

Jeff Bezos has said that AI and machine learning in particular ‘will empower and improve every business, every government organization and every philanthropy’. The key word here is ‘every’. If you are not exploring how AI can enhance your business, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

The good news is that you don't necessarily need to understand the underlying algorithms and methodologies, you simply need to understand what can be done with it.

Q. This means AI impacts everyone in some way. How does this change how we should be viewing it?

Business owners need to understand how their business will be impacted, executives need to understand how to enhance their future strategy, managers should understand how to make their daily work more efficient and all employees need to understand the impact on their jobs and professions by this artificial intelligence. 

Even school kids, their parents, and teachers need to understand how the world is changing to help prepare for the new world of work.

Q. Where are so many people going wrong when it comes to AI?

They aren’t paying enough attention to what already available, and they should care, because the benefits of AI are not small or incremental. They are massive. Vidado uses AI to convert handwriting to digital text one thousand times faster than a human being. 

Lawgeex has developed AI that can analyze a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA) in 26 seconds. The average lawyer takes 92 minutes. These are not 10X improvements. 10X is old-school. 

Most underestimate the number of areas that can be improved by AI, the advancement of existing AI and the size of the potential improvement.

Q. How is ignoring the benefits of AI actually harming business owners, now and in the long-term?

I’m so bored of hearing the Kodak or Blockbuster stories, and yet we aren’t learning from them, because in years to come, there will be so many new examples of giant companies that have failed because they underestimated this new wave of tech. 

Related: Don't Want Your Business to Stagnate? Keep Your Customer At the Centre

I’m not naive, I know that most executives and business leaders talk about AI, Robotics, and machine learning a lot, but I’m not convinced that this talk is being put into action at the speed that is required. 

I’m also not convinced that they understand all the use cases of AI. They may have had some boring management consultants come in and explain AI to them in highfalutin, academic language; they may have attended some glitzy infotainment conferences giving super-cool examples of what may be possible in the future; but if you question many business owners and execs, will they be able to tell you what all the use cases of AI are today, particularly in their specific industries? 

I doubt it, and have experienced it first hand through playing my game ‘Dawn of Disruption’, with executives and business owners. So many people miss the point. I designed the game to change how we view AI. In the game, players are exposed to pretty much all existing use cases of AI, with examples of companies that are using or supplying the tech today, and then prompted to prioritize which are appropriate for their business. 

In every case, players are amazed at what’s already possible and available. For me, this just highlights the need for this type of knowledge to be shared and consumed in a new fashion. 

I especially designed the Dawn of Disruption experience as a non-digital, fun experience so that no-one would be too intimidated to learn this crucial info.

This is also an opportunity for entrepreneurs. Building a company from scratch with no existing staff or legacy systems is like a dream compared to executing these changes in of a massive institution. You can design your vision from scratch, utilizing AI in almost every area. Artificial Intelligence is a great equalizer. It’s time to disrupt.

Q. How can businesses start leveraging AI right now?

AI allows you to do everything better, cheaper and faster. Start by understanding what can be done. Education is key. Then, actually putting knowledge into action requires a different approach, depending on what needs to be done. For many scenarios, an existing startup or tech company provides the needed AI tech to seamlessly integrate into. 

Other times, you may require the help of a data scientist or developer to guide you along the process. There are many APIs and libraries that make machine learning much more accessible than you’d think. Two I would recommend are tensorflow and amazon.com - machine learning. Do your research – there will be tech companies offering incredible solutions in South Africa as well.

Q. What should business owns be aware of?

Beware of companies looking to prey on your ignorance. Many charge a premium on solutions because they know they can get away with it. 

Business Owners and executives often are unaware that there are better or cheaper options available out there. Beware of companies that falsely claim to be using AI. A study was done in Europe and it was found that 40% of ‘AI’ startups actually don’t use any AI. 

They simply claim to because they know that AI startups manage to receive great funding at the moment. Once you are educated about what can be done with AI, you’ll be better equipped to sniff out the fakers.

Related: The 8 Codes That Helped Priven Reddy Grow From Waiter to Self-Made Millionaire at 35

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