Banning AI tools at work: the worst decision your business can make?

As the list of companies banning generative AI gets longer, questions about the safety of using the technology in the workplace are piling up.

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Samsung, Apple, JP Morgan, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and even the Italian government. These are all entities that, even if just temporarily, have banned the use of generative AI.

In the most recent controversy, Samsung banned tools like ChatGPT on its internal networks after sensitive information was uploaded onto OpenAI’s cloud platform with no security measures put in place.

This news came a little over a month after ChatGPT experienced a bug that temporarily exposed chat histories and payment information to other users on the service.

Plenty of grey zones concerning data privacy and intellectual property remain as AI becomes gradually normalised, causing anxiety for business owners unsure about what workplace policies to implement. Should they embrace the technology to stay ahead of the innovation curve or ban it altogether to mitigate data privacy risks?

Walking the AI tightrope

Statistics show that a quarter of businesses use AI to fill talent gaps and about 20% use AI because of pressures like customer expectations of competition.

Some heavy hitters are onboard. IBM announced hiring would stop for roles that can be performed by AI whilst PwC is consulting with Harvey, an AI startup creating tools for lawyers, like a chatbot that can support legal teams.

The tally of technological giants siding with or against AI in their workplace policies, therefore, can easily make small business leaders feel like they’re taking a hefty gamble when deciding how to use the technology in their operations.

Confidentiality and privacy breaches that give little visibility to companies over how the data they input is being used by the provider is a concern. According to the UK National Cyber Security Research Center, queries will be visible to the service provider, stored and almost certainly used to develop the service at some point.

Intellectual property (IP) also is followed by a substantial question mark. Employees that rely on information from consumer AI tools have no visibility over where the information was developed or from which sources.

Besides worrying about IP, employees also have no guarantee that the information they’re being fed back is not inaccurate or biassed.

Avoiding the extremes

Picking a side with generative AI is more nuanced than just taking a for or against stance.

According to a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University, customer support staff equipped with an AI tool suggested 14% more customer issues were resolved each hour on average.

The study also found that less experienced workers made greater productivity jumps because the tools effectively captured and disseminated the practices of their higher skilled colleagues.

Whenever we talk to SMEs that use AI and the advantages of the technology, a boost in productivity continuously pops up. As a business, giving the cold shoulder to a technology that could improve revenue, productivity, and allow your human employees to focus on more complex and creative tasks would be a mistake.

Although drawbacks undoubtedly exist with AI, it’s important to remember that the technology is still in nascent stages and will adapt to answer data privacy concerns so users feel safer.

Take Italy’s ban on ChatGPT, for example. Back in April, the Mediterranean country temporarily banned the platform due to concerns about breaching General Data Protection Regulation. Just four weeks later, however, ChatGPT was accessible again after OpenAI successfully addressed the issues raised.

As regulations catch up, businesses also have the option of curating in-house AI tools that are trained only with internal data, as opposed to a worldwide cloud of information.

According to a report by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport, of the 15% of UK businesses that have adopted AI tech, nearly half have created a solution internally.

Therefore, the options for businesses are not ChatGPT or nothing. As research unfolds and AI’s potential is better understood, it’ll be easier to integrate the technology without fears of being plugged into a universal AI cloud with few privacy protections.

Fail to prepare for AI, prepare to fail

Whilst placing a blanket ban on AI would be a strategic mistake, blindly adopting the technology without any training or preparation would be problematic.

According to research by Salesforce, only one in ten workers have key AI skills. Of the 11,000 employees that were surveyed, a scant 14% said their role involved related digital skills like encryption and cybersecurity.

Therefore, making your employees aware of the dangers of using AI without any awareness of privacy issues is key to taking advantage of the technology.

Whilst your business might choose to place temporary restrictions as training prepares your workforce for AI, training should be a priority. After all, 79% of small business owners in the UK consider the adoption of new technologies to be critical for future growth.

Avoiding the mishaps of Samsung is possible, so long as employees use generative AI as an aid in their work, rather than depending on it and inputting sensitive information. Understanding the limits, however, will depend on businesses investing the time and resources necessary to future-proof their workforce.

Written by:
Fernanda is a Mexican-born Startups Writer. Specialising in the Marketing & Finding Customers pillar, she’s always on the lookout for how startups can leverage tools, software, and insights to help solidify their brand, retain clients, and find new areas for growth. Having grown up in Mexico City and Abu Dhabi, Fernanda is passionate about how businesses can adapt to new challenges in different economic environments to grow and find creative ways to engage with new and existing customers. With a background in journalism, politics, and international relations, Fernanda has written for a multitude of online magazines about topics ranging from Latin American politics to how businesses can retain staff during a recession. She is currently strengthening her journalistic muscle by studying for a part-time multimedia journalism degree from the National Council of Training for Journalists (NCTJ).

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