The businesses that risk bursting AI’s bubble

The dot-com bubble burst in 2000 following an exceptionally fast and inflated growth. In the lead-up, the hype around the internet and specific websites meant people were investing massive amounts of money, but the companies lacked infrastructure and knowledge. In hindsight, these websites were always doomed to fail and there has been extensive analysis in academic, technology and business circles about how everyone got it so wrong.

Yet twenty years later, we face a similar situation with the sheer quantity of artificial intelligence (AI) start-ups being created. It is worth taking a step back and considering the various factors that came into play at the beginning of the millennium so as not to fall in the same trap once again.

A recent report found four in ten start-ups who market themselves as users of AI don’t implement this technology. Clearly, businesses are seeing value in pretending to offer AI as a core service. As a strong advocate of all types of artificial intelligence, this trend is worrying but not surprising. Measures must be taken to prevent businesses from using AI as a catch-all redundant term.

An innocent misunderstanding?

There is a danger that the false claims on AI may water down its importance. The potential of AI is vast, and it has the power to revolutionise and transform areas of our life we haven’t explored yet – from healthcare innovations to the creation of the world’s first AI-powered recruitment robot this week, who will be able to make truly unbiased hiring decisions. Start-ups wrongly claiming to have AI capabilities have identified a gap in consumers’ understanding of the technology and are using this to their advantage to promote their own products and gain customers.

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Companies branded with the term AI also have higher valuation and higher funding rounds when trying to gain investment. Businesses are using the term artificial intelligence with the aim to strengthen their customer proposition, receive external funding and improve chances of success.

What exactly is AI?

The fundamental reason why the term AI is used incorrectly is that it has no one concrete definition. The obscurity around the term means businesses can thrive under the guise of “artificial intelligence” without using the technology – an issue within the industry itself.

As the technology evolves, the definition of AI will continue to widen. New reports come out each week with forecasts around AI investment, with varying definitions and degrees of understanding. It is only through narrowing the umbrella term AI that we will begin to see change occur when it comes to businesses incorrectly promoting their services.

Further, there is an immense need for better education and understanding around AI. With so many advancements happening every day, it can be difficult to keep up with the changing landscape. If there is a concerted effort to improve the understanding of AI for customers and investors, it can have a positive effect in stemming the flow of start-ups who are wrongly promoting their supposedly “AI” based services.

Clouding perception

There is concern that businesses who are riding the AI wave will cloud the public perception of what AI can do. If trust in the industry diminishes, it will have a negative effect on future development and potentially slow down AI adoption. Even though there is a seemingly worrying trend towards businesses purporting to use the technology in their products, this must not create a negative view on the majority of businesses who are correctly using AI and innovating in this field.

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It is clear this technology is providing transformational change across the broad sweep of industries and entrepreneurs want to invest accordingly. Its potential is still untapped; just this week, Microsoft announced a form of machine learning that provides people with no or impaired vision with the ability to explore photos through touch. This incredible tool has vast potential – and it is important that businesses use the term and the technology ethically, rather than dupe investors and the public alike.

It is concerning that numerous businesses are trying to promote their services by claiming they have AI capabilities. Without a proper understanding of AI, consumers and investors will only feed into the vicious cycle of companies who are wrongly promoting their services. No one wants a repeat of the dot-com crash – and there is a clear need for self-regulation and reflection within the industry to ensure there’s no AI bubble burst that can hamper the important, incredible potential of the technology.

Written by Daniel Pitchford, co-founder of AI Business.

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