Artificial intelligence Q&A: Using AI tools to make business life easier

Artificial intelligence Q&A: Using AI tools to make business life easier

Posted: Wed 26th Jun 2024

For today's Q&A, we're joined by Tom Hewitson and Barry Whyte, co-founders of General Purpose, the UK's leading provider of AI training.

Here, Tom and Barry answer questions on all things AI, covering aspects like prompting, productivity, content creation and more.

How can AI benefit small businesses generally?

Tom: Last year, the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council in the US published a very interesting survey. It showed that two-thirds of small businesses say AI is helping them to compete with larger organisations in a way that they just weren't able to before.

We see a similar sentiment in the work we do. AI is great at upskilling small business owners so they can use AI to fill gaps in either their business skills or their personal skills.

That's a huge advantage for small businesses, who often don't have many or any employees and certainly don't have a specialist for every single role or job.

Every one of the businesses that's been through our training has told us that AI is making them more productive, and, on average, saving them almost an hour a day.

Two-thirds say it's helping them to create new value and reduce a lot of risk. And almost half say that implementing AI into their small business is saving them money.

The UK government estimates that in the next 20 years, the number of new businesses is going to increase by 50%. And I think that's being driven by the fact that AI can make it a lot easier to start a new business.

How can a small business start to embed AI tools in its ways of working?

Barry: The best place to start is simply to experiment. AI is a general purpose technology that you can apply to almost every aspect of working life. You'll find some sort of use case to make things better and more efficient.

Just download ChatGPT and have a play around. Use it on something you normally do in your day-to-day job that's a little bit repetitive. Some examples could be if you're writing an email to a client, or if you have a really long document that you need to condense and summarise.

Is it worth paying for AI tools or am I OK with the free versions?

Barry: Once you've experimented with the free version of a tool like ChatGPT, definitely consider upgrading. The paid version of almost any AI product will give you much better outputs over the basic free version. The paid version of ChatGPT is much smarter, and it'll do a better job.

Tom: If you've used an AI tool already and you were disappointed because you didn't get the results you wanted, it might be that you were using the free version. Try upgrading to the paid version. Because what you're ultimately paying for is intelligence.

And often the difference between the intelligence can be significant. One of the ways we measure the intelligence of these systems is by setting them exams and comparing them with humans.

In many of the key tests, the free versions of the tools do worse than 90% of people. But the paid versions do better than 90% of people.


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Watch Tom and Barry discuss AI and its advantages in more detail in this webinar.


What are your favourite AI tools? Which ones would you recommend above all others?

Tom: My favourite is a search engine called Perplexity. It's as if ChatGPT and Google had a baby. What I like about it is that it gives you those neat summary answers, like you get from ChatGPT.

But it also provides the sources of where it got its information. So it's a lot easier to track back and make sure that what it's providing is factually accurate.

I also love Dext. It's an AI tool that takes your invoices and receipts and automatically processes them and adds them to your accounting system. If you're still doing that task manually – which, let's face it, is a job that literally no-one enjoys – getting Dext is a really easy win.

Barry: I'd highly recommend Midjourney, which is an image generation tool. It's a little bit tricky to get started with, but it allows you to generate images of anything using simple prompts.

While there are quite a few tools out there that do the same, the results from Midjourney are genuinely astounding. They're not the most commercially useful images, for copyright reasons. But they're brilliant for bringing your creative ideas to life.

For example, you might be giving a presentation and putting some slides together, and you need to give the whole thing a little bit more colour. Or maybe you're coming up with new ideas for your brand. Midjourney is unbeatable and will save you so much money. It's also really good fun.


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I'm self-employed with a limited budget. What's the most cost-effective AI tool I could go for?

Tom: Right now, all of the tools we're discussing cost roughly the same amount, which is around $20 a month. So, if you can only pick one, you're probably best off going with ChatGPT.

It's the best overall package, because it has the intelligence to do the vast majority of tasks pretty well. It's not as good as Midjourney at image generation, or as good as Perplexity at web searching, but it can do it all.

There seems to be a stigma around tools like ChatGPT. What are the business risks of using AI?

Barry: I think there's technical risk and psychological risk, which is where the stigma comes in. It's the sense that by using ChatGPT you're cheating. If I write an email with ChatGPT, is that genuinely something that's coming from me?

I actually think we need to get away from that attitude and normalise the use of ChatGPT in the business world. If I use ChatGPT to write an email to a client or to write a proposal, it isn't replacing my effort and my work altogether.

Not only do I have to prompt it in the first place, but ChatGPT is only ever really going to get me 80% of the way there, even if my prompts are insanely good. I'll never get 100% of the way there.

Simply put, AI just speeds up your work – you're still using your own judgement. Compare it to using Excel to do calculations for your accounting – no-one ever said that was cheating! That's just normal business.

Tom: Most of the risks are more ethical or moral risks than legal risks. Under the EU AI Act, any image you produce using AI and then publish must be tagged in the metadata to show that it's AI-generated. If you don't do that, you can be fined.

The EU AI Act is a little bit like GDPR in that it isn't part of UK law but it still applies to us. If any EU citizen is exposed to your content and can't clearly see that it's labelled as AI-generated, you could face a fine or legal action.

Realistically, as a small business, you're probably not going to get picked up on it. It's unlikely someone would notice if you use an AI-generated image on a blog. But the risk does exist, and it does require a bit of diligence.


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What is prompting? What does a prompt engineer do?

Tom: Prompting, or prompt engineering, is basically asking ChatGPT questions, or giving it instructions in the right way to get the best possible results.

AI tools like ChatGPT work by predicting the next word, a bit like predictive text on your phone. So inputting the correct formulation of words as a prompt means the tool is going to predict a better answer. It's a bit of an art, and also a bit of a science.

But prompting is a set of skills that anyone can learn. Once you understand the general principles behind prompt engineering, and why you need to use these words specifically, you're well on your way.

What we try and teach people is figuring out how to come up with their own prompts for their specific uses. That's the general purpose skill that everybody needs to acquire to use AI effectively.

How secure are AI tools when it comes to personal or sensitive data?

Tom: It depends on the tool. Different tools have different security requirements and policies. If you pay for ChatGPT, OpenAI say they won't use your data to train the tool. If you use only the free version or the plus version, your inputs could be used to train a future model.

Almost all AI tools have paid versions where the makers guarantee they won't use your data for training. So you're paying for the security, and that means you need to decide where the risk lies for you.

And that depends on what you do as a business. If you're working in healthcare, that's different than if you're a digital marketing agency. If you're a company that already has to think about GDPR and data protection, this is just another part of that process.

Which AI tools are good for creating content?

Barry: Claude, which is a competitor to ChatGPT, has a subtly different tone of voice. A lot of content creators think Claude is a slightly more fluent writer than ChatGPT.

So if you're specifically looking for something to help you write better copy, I'd recommend trying Claude, particularly the paid version. It's pretty good at copywriting.


VIDEO: Revolutionising your content strategy with ChatGPT

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What's one key thing I can do to immediately boost my productivity using AI?

Tom: We have a technique called "the consultant". It's where you get ChatGPT (or a similar digital assistant) to ask you a series of questions to figure out how it can help you.

So you'd prompt it by saying something like "Help me figure out one thing I can do to immediately boost my productivity with AI". And you'd say "Ask me a series of questions to work this out".

And it will ask you questions. Each one will be based on the answers you give. At the end, it'll be able to give you a tailored answer on how it can help you.

You can almost think of it as a very intelligent, enthusiastic intern who's eager to please and who just needs a little bit of guidance and structure to help you.


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