How To Compete And Win In The New World Of AI


Bijan Khosravi

June 9, 2016

A future in which humanity is subservient to computers and giant corporations was one of the predictions that came out of last week’s Code Conference in LA. This forecast came from one of today’s most forward-thinking entrepreneurs: Elon Musk. Musk, who is well known for touting the dangers of AI, gave some of the boldest predictions on AI at this year’s conference. Left unchecked, he warned that AI could have a devastating effect on humanity, which is why he supports OpenAI to bring artificial intelligence to the masses.

Photographer: Matthew Staver/Bloomberg

Jeff Bezos also spoke at the conference, giving a more positive prediction of how AI can help consumers. Amazon, with its Alexa Artificial Intelligence Engine, is one of the frontrunners in AI. Google has also been active in the field for some time and is applying AI in all of its businesses. At the conference, Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, displayed a high level of confidence in Google’s leadership position in the field. Other big names in the game include Apple (who acquired a company last fall called VocalIQ that offers some of the most cutting-edge, virtual assistant technology out there) and Facebook, who is using AI to analyze posts and comments on Facebook in an effort to better know—and cater to—its users.

With these tech giants, is there room for early or mid-stage startups to even compete? I believe there is. With a solid understanding of the landscape, the right technology and an effective business model, there is room for startup companies of all sizes to succeed in the AI space.

Startups who understand the pros and cons of the market – and the current competitive landscape – will be able to seize the moment and win. In AI, the biggest positives are the unlimited opportunities and potential to innovate. As the capabilities of AI continue to grow, more and more industries will turn to the technology for solutions to existing challenges. The opportunities in healthcare will expand with wearables, attachables and implantables. Technologies that enhance brain functions and memory are also under development.

The business world is also jumping use AI, especially when it comes to hiring and employee engagement. AI could make it easier for companies to select the right job candidates based on personality and job preferences. Managers, meanwhile, could use AI applications to better understand the work force and create unique engagement strategies.

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The cons, especially for small-to-midsized startups, stem from the funds needed to build a successful business. Large companies, such as Facebook and Google, have nearly unlimited resources when it comes to acquiring talent and IP. Currently the market for AI talent is tight and the candidates seeking employment aren’t playing for entry-level salaries. I recently heard of a case where a mid-level engineer was offered a $350K annual salary and was about to take the job until the company across the street offered 10% more. That’s a very high salary for most startups to handle, especially in the early stages.

The second challenge for many startups is access to IP. Unless you are sitting on some incredibly cutting-edge intellectual property or have the means to license it from a university, it could be harder to survive simply because the tech giants are gobbling up the best of the best in ideas and IP.

These challenges are very real, but with demand for AI applications growing across nearly every industry, there are plenty of opportunities to get in the game. Here’s how to compete:

  1. Protect your ideas. It may sound obvious, but when you start with a solid, game-changing idea, it is easier get funding. Take the time to protect your idea so others can’t jump onto your bandwagon. If you play your cards right, you might be bought at a very early stage.
  2. Play the hiring game—with equity. Even if you can’t afford the huge starting salaries that many of the bigger companies are offering, you might be able to attract solid players through equity. Be generous and creative. You don’t want to lose talent before the work is done.
  3. Don’t forget the “business side”. You might have an amazing idea, but if no one knows about it, no one will pay for it. Make sure you have a great marketing team to launch the company and the product. Your market presence is money!

AI is entering every aspect of society in both obvious and subtle ways. The tech giants of the world recognize its power and growth potential. They are aggressively investing significant resources into winning the AI race. As a startup, it’s hard to compete with their resources and dollars, but it’s not impossible. By digging deep, developing and protecting your IP and being creative about attracting talent, companies of all sizes have an opportunity to play in this exploding field. Hopefully the winning companies will leverage the great potential of AI to better society and not leave humanity helpless at the hands of super intelligent machines.

This article was written by Bijan Khosravi from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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