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The rapid advancement of artificial intelligence (AI) has generated considerable buzz, leaving many small businesses with the impression that its progress is nothing short of astonishing.

However, our recent research reveals that a significant 80% of small business owners on a global scale are apprehensive about the breakneck speed and unregulated nature of AI development. They have expressed a strong desire for governments to play a more active role, recognizing the substantial implications it could have on various industries and the workforce.

Our comprehensive Future Focus study on AI, conducted at Growthwork Sydney this year, delved deep into the sentiments of 3,000 small business owners hailing from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States regarding AI and its potential impact on their businesses.

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Mixed feelings in research findings

what does the research reveal? In summary, small businesses have complex attitudes toward AI. They exhibit curiosity and enthusiasm, but they also harbor reservations regarding ethical implications and data privacy.

About one-third (32%) of small businesses express a keen interest in AI, while others are split, with 31% feeling apprehensive and 30% feeling excited. Half of these businesses believe AI will bring considerable benefits, positively impacting their employees, processes, and workflows, in contrast to 20% who anticipate harm.

Furthermore, our findings highlight that the most significant ethical concerns associated with AI use in small businesses are the potential for sensitive information disclosure (41%) and data privacy violations (41%). Additionally, some respondents (38%) expressed worries about the ethical dilemmas tied to possible job displacement resulting from AI utilization.

Curiosity outweighs concerns

Despite these ethical considerations and the increasing accessibility of AI tools, small business owners remain eager to take a proactive approach and stay at the forefront of technology adoption. Our research indicates that on a global scale, 32% of businesses are actively exploring AI tools, with 21% making direct investments in them. The findings further reveal that:

. One out of every five small businesses is allocating additional resources to AI.

. A majority of them (51%) express confidence in using AI tools for handling identifiable customer         information.

. Additionally, 45% of the surveyed respondents indicate their willingness to rely on AI tools for managing sensitive commercial data.

The challenges of using AI

While AI has piqued the interest of small business owners, we’ve also learned that it’s not the top priority for small businesses just yet. Only 8% of respondents ranked adopting or investing in AI as their number one priority over the next 12 months.

In terms of the small businesses that are already using AI, 69% are reporting some drawbacks, and 23% have seen increased security or privacy issues since using generative AI tools. These drawbacks included:

. increased biases or inaccuracies in content (18%)

. decreased employee morale (18%)

. decreased efficiency due to time overseeing the quality control of AI content (16%)

. reduced headcount (14%)

While reduced headcount can be seen as a drawback, it can also support small business owners to be more efficient and save on costs. Though 59% of small business owners said they don’t see their hiring plans changing over the next three years, a third (31%) said they plan to hire fewer people.

A reminder to use data responsibility

The growing fascination with generative and predictive AI is piquing the interest of small businesses. However, delving into this technology and potentially sharing personally identifiable information could potentially jeopardize the security of their clients’ data.

Recognizing the paramount importance of safeguarding sensitive data, Growthwork has maintained a steadfast commitment to responsible data usage for many years. These commitments serve as our guiding principles in conducting business and assist us in aiding our customers as they navigate their own data utilization.

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