AI is boosting innovation, but not without human ingenuity 

Jing Huang, Senior Director of Engineering, Machine Learning at SurveyMonkey
Jing Huang
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The world of entrepreneurship is boundaryless and by default, comes with many joys, and just as many learnings. Take it from me—while I currently lead the machine learning team at SurveyMonkey, I once co-founded a free lifestyle application for brides-to-be to help them with all things wedding planning. 

This journey was one that broadened my perspectives, taught me a great deal, and gave me a true dose of what entrepreneurship is all about. Because of this ingrained “once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur” persistence, I have taken an obvious interest in the ways the role of artificial intelligence (AI) has, and continues to, play in the business world, specifically from a founder and entrepreneur point of view. A solid learning and development strategy in your business is going to help you to keep up with the needs of AI. Without it, you’re going to fall behind. Embracing AI could be everything that your business needs to succeed.

One thing that is most apparent? While AI cannot replace human creativity and the randomness that often ignites innovation, it can systemise and support innovation processes by uncovering patterns, facilitating cross-industry learning, simulating outcomes, and connecting people and ideas.

It’s clear: AI is boosting innovation.

AI tools available today to enable note-taking, data analysis, or even content generating, have already become pivotal tools for founders and entrepreneurs in developing their business ideas and structures. For example, let’s take the concept of a personal AI assistant. As an entrepreneur, the introduction of an AI assistant can (and will continue to!) be a game-changer. It's not just a tool; it's a 24/7 partner in an entrepreneurial journey, aiding everything from initial idea generation to managing a packed schedule. AI's real power lies in its vast repository of data and knowledge, enriching brainstorming sessions in ways that were previously beyond reach.

For those of us in (or familiar with) the entrepreneurial world, we know that constant multitasking comes with the territory—from strategising and fundraising, to product development—all while still keeping a close eye on expenses. In these early stages, the luxury of an executive assistant is often just that, a luxury. But AI has the power to function as a dependable ally to help you navigate these challenges. 

Reflecting on my past experiences as an entrepreneur, such AI can be a versatile and valuable asset. It can effectively break down barriers common in startup settings and transform how we embark on our entrepreneurial endeavours.

But beware: while AI is a game-changer, it's essential to understand its limitations.

AI's strength lies in its ability to rapidly transform concepts into tangible outputs, significantly boosting productivity and efficiency. This capability is transformative for businesses, offering a streamlined process for realising ideas. However, there's a notable caveat: while AI excels in enhancing and optimising existing processes, it is not yet equipped to produce those fundamentally new, groundbreaking ideas. True innovation comes from the human element; AI can make decisions quickly and effectively based on what already exists, but humans are still in the driver's seat to ask questions to best define the problem space. 

See, while leveraging AI for streamlining operations and enhancing productivity can have vast benefits, overreliance on it for generating innovative, new, creative ideas may lead to either derivative or limited novelty outputs. 

It’s crucial to understand the importance of data in the AI era, whether you just started formatting your idea or are in the process of building your first MVP.  In a paper published last year, a group of researchers predicted we will run out of high-quality text data before 2026 if the current AI training trends continue. They also estimated low-quality language data will be exhausted sometime between 2030 and 2050, and low-quality image data between 2030 and 2060. 

It is clear: data will become scarce, especially human generated data. And because of this, it’s important to have a winning data strategy from the get go and for the long run. In the context of gaining human insights, using tools such as SurveyMonkey to collect high quality human generated data can provide tremendous value.

The true essence of innovation, especially in creating concepts that have never been seen or conceived before, remains a uniquely human attribute.

Innovations resulting from ground-breaking discoveries are often serendipitous and can only be achieved through human creativity. However, AI is not completely irrelevant to the innovation process: it can work in tandem with teams to 'systemise' the innovation process. AI technology can significantly enhance discovery by uncovering overlooked insights and aiding in brainstorming, potential ROI calculation, and implementation. 

When treated as another team member during the brainstorming process, and not relied on to create something on its own, AI can build on human-led innovative ideas. 

Realising the transformative nature of AI is imperative, and acknowledging the disruption the technology can bring is crucial. Though its evolving capabilities present both potential and uncertainties, it is essential to maintain a balanced perspective, recognising AI's current strengths in processing and implementation, while also valuing the irreplaceable role of human ingenuity in driving genuine innovation.

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January 18, 2024