Updated: Feb 5
Years from now, we will no longer remember there was a time when AI was not here. How do we know that? Well, most people I talk to these days do not understand what a switchboard operator was. The last one retired in 1983 when AT&T converted the switchboard she operated to a central battery system. By that time, the internet already existed, although not in its current form. That only happened in 1993, and it took a few years for its power to be felt.
In 1994, I lived in Thailand (I am originally from Brazil), and a minute on the phone cost USD 100 (in today's value, it would be a whopping USD 174). The only cost-effective alternative was to write letters. In one year, I sent and received more than 300 letters, which were written with as much level of detail as possible to tell the story of what was happening. The three phone calls to my parents that year were in contrast, short and a way to feel slightly closer - 60 seconds each time!
Now here we are. We talk to everyone all the time if we want to and with video. The cost of a phone call has dropped to a mere USD 0.03 per minute in most decent networks for any international connection - war zones excluded. The internet became omnipresent. We take it and everything made possible by it, for granted.
When I talk about AI, most people think of something far beyond in the future, which will have no consequences in our lives. They are wrong. And when I am talking about AI, I am also talking about tools that are slowly transitioning into our everyday lives without us paying attention.
The power of AI is making software and tools deployed in business extremely cheap - in many cases, free (we want to know who you are, and we will monetize on that alone). That transition offers a ton of opportunities.
Late last century, adding electricity to a tool was the way to make it modern and more accessible. It saved time for the users - washing machines changed life as our grandparents knew it. Then add the internet to the business models made things faster and simpler (amazon.com anyone?). These two examples miss one crucial aspect, which is the number of other businesses that emerged during that same period, which were 2nd tier users of that technology. The beginning of the century saw electricity enable an entertainment industry that would not exist otherwise, and the internet took that same industry to a whole new level.
When we talk AI and the emerging business models deriving from it, a critical reflection is: what happens to the skills needed in the previous industrial age? The current language in business revolves around competencies. You must have them to execute or manage your work adequately. But what do you do if your existing skills can be replaced by an algorithm that will perform it 10x better than you at peak performance?
The most important discussion we have with business owners is how do you ensure you are up to speed, and you can continue to serve your customers while disrupting your business model. If you are not clear, you have to think again. If you do not disrupt yourself, someone else will.
Today we have a vast array of software that can work for you for free. It will be enablers for the next wave of entrepreneurship that is emerging. And how much AI do you need to know? Not a lot, but you have to understand how you will connect you with monetizable skills with the demands of the niches you choose to serve. A layer of technology is a must there, or else how can you help Australia and Europe at the same time?
The secret for self-disruption: get the most cost-effective technology stack for your business and deploy that around your core and commercial processes. Sounds easier than done, well it is easy if you know what is out there and how to use it. The core idea of serving your customers remains central to all businesses, but how you do it and how you get to those customers changed a lot of the last 20 years, and this was only the beggining.