It is estimated that more than 1.1 trillion megabytes of data is created every day. In fact, by the end of 2023, the world will have an estimated 118 zettabytes of data in it. You might be asking: what is a zettabyte? Good question. I had to look it up too.
By way of a formal definition, 1 zettabyte is equal to 1 billion terabytes, 1 trillion gigabytes or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes (that’s 21 zeros, in case you are counting).
By way of colloquial comparison, 1 zettabyte is approximately equivalent to all of the grains of sand on all of the world’s beaches.
By way of my brain, it is uncompressible how large that really is.
And, sadly, what are we doing with all this data? Mostly nothing.
By way of formal definition, Artificial Intelligence is “is the intelligence of machines or software, as opposed to the intelligence of humans or animals. It is also the field of study in computer science that develops and studies intelligent machines. “AI” may also refer to the machines themselves.”
By way of colloquial comparison, Artificial Intelligence is a “machine’s ability to perform the cognitive functions we usually associate with human minds,” typically in a way that is smarter, faster and/or more complex than the human mind can process.
By way of my brain, Artificial Intelligence can help us make sense out of all those zettabytes of unused data … or perhaps it is just a cause of why we are creating so much data in the first place.
The Proliferation of Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence includes more simplistic applications like descriptive analysis or predictive modeling, both of which have served our industry for decades.
It also includes more sophisticated technologies, like generative AI tools that emerged only a year ago.
No matter the type of Artificial Intelligence you explore, it has the potential to truly transform the world, including our professional corner of it in the philanthropic sector. Its potential impact cannot be understated.
However, judging by the 1 million Google hits when searching “Artificial Intelligence and nonprofits” and the 7.1 million Google hits when searching “Artificial Intelligence and fundraising,” my concern is that we have gotten to the point where we are overusing the phrase without a clear understanding of what it really means or how we can use it successfully.
Judging from the numbers above, one might wonder: “has Artificial Intelligence just become an overly hyped catch phrase?” Others might reply: “wow, that’s a controversial comment!”
My opinion? Artificial Intelligence is just one tool of many in our toolbox. It cannot and should not be applied to every facet of our work lives and it will not be the answer to all of our fundraising problems. Here are some guiding principles:
Using Artificial Intelligence successfully…
- will require setting expectations properly.
- will require thought and planning.
- is not just about saving time and doing things more quickly, it is also about enhancing our capabilities and allowing us to push further.
- will require sophistication, even when it is brought down to its simplest form.
- is not something you can just decide “to do” one day.
So, how do you set yourself and your organization up for success?
Alternative Interpretations of AI:
Let’s explore some alternative interpretations for what the letters “A” and “I” might stand for. None of these are as “on trend” as the phrase “Artificial Intelligence” but I would argue that all are necessary components that can help us transition from just talking about Artificial Intelligence as jargon to truly leveraging its power to help us operate stronger, faster and more efficiently.
- Accurate Information – the concept of needing clean data for analysis is just about as basic as you could get, but it’s foundational for a reason. As with any data or analytics application, the term “garbage in/garbage out” applies to Artificial Intelligence as well. While no data set will ever be perfect, the more accurate and complete a data set, the more accurate Artificial Intelligence applications will be.
- Apply Incrementally – not every aspect of your organization’s program will need Artificial Intelligence to become optimized. And, in fact, given that using Artificial Intelligence takes the investment of time and resources, consider how you might start small and where it might have the biggest impact. As an analogy, if Artificial Intelligence is the rocket ship of using data and technology strategically, the rocket ship is piloted by someone who learned to fly on a single engine plane – what is your single engine plane?
- Amplifying Interests – how can you find your single engine plane? Consider where and how Artificial Intelligence will be able to best assist you in amplifying your interests. You can focus on either the core mission of the non-profit organization that you work for or the specific program area/type of responsibilities that you are focused on supporting. It does not matter. Either way, you want to choose a project or an application that is meaningful and needle-moving, not something that just seems “cool” or interesting.
- Accountably Informed – there’s a lot of chatter about the ethical and legal considerations of Artificial Intelligence – and for good reason. From data bias that could impact the results of an analysis project to privacy legislation that governs the types of data we can use, the concerns are real. Each of us has a duty to hold ourselves accountable to being informed about how to properly collect, store and utilize data within our organizations.
- Actionable Implementation– Over the past two decades, I have witnessed dozens and dozens of organizations do nothing to change their business practices in response to an artificial intelligence exercise. There is no common denominator for the size or sector of the organizations, or the type of project they conducted. The reasons for not implementing are broad and varied, ranging from lack of bandwidth, to it not being prioritized, to lack of support from leadership, to cross-departmental challenges waiting for someone else to do something in order to “get started.” Frankly, most frequently it is just complacency since it’s easier to not change and to keep the status quo. Here’s the problem: you can’t expect artificial intelligence to have an impact if you aren’t taking action to implement change. If you are not committed, willing or able to do so, do not proceed.
- Augmented Interpretations– Sometimes Artificial Intelligence will be wrong. In fact, all statistical processes have flaws and some margin of error. Celebrate each win. But, do not expect perfection. Be prepared to have some failures. Healthy skepticism and critical questioning are perfectly natural. This is a balancing act. Always consider the long game, which includes the overall efficacy without letting individual imperfections push you away.
- Actual Intellect – Artificial Intelligence is a given. Will Artificial Intelligence change the way we do our work? Absolutely. Some of us are old enough to remember when the Internet was rumored to replace our profession and it obviously didn’t. We are still here! Our actual human intellect is still needed. And, in fact, I would argue that artificial intelligence will never replace real intelligence, because artificial intelligence is … well, artificial! As good and as strong as it gets, there will always be nuance, context, consequence and strategic interpretation that will need our actual intellect.
With that, I’ll summarize by saying that I hope you found this blog post to have Applicable Insights for your interest in this topic (sorry folks – I couldn’t help but sneak one last “A” and “I” in) and that it has encouraged you to proceed with Artificial Intelligence endeavors more thoughtfully.