A man sits at a table and looks down at the screen of an open laptop. His right arm rests on the table and he props his chin on his hand.
Traditional AI has been around for decades and is incorporated into many well-known technologies, like search engines or voice assistants. — Getty Images/Delmaine Donson

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Artificial intelligence has actually been around since the 1950s, but only recently have businesses of all sizes been able to take advantage of this technology. AI has evolved to become relevant in virtually every sector. In fact, 23% of small businesses already use artificial intelligence for things like marketing and customer communications. An additional 39% of sellers plan to add AI to their business operations in the future.

As you begin exploring the various ways to integrate AI, you may start hearing the terms “generative AI” and “traditional AI.” Here’s what these types of artificial intelligence can do, and how to determine what your business needs.

What is traditional AI?

Traditional AI, sometimes also known as Weak AI or Narrow AI, is a subset of artificial intelligence that focuses on performing preset tasks using predetermined algorithms and rules. These artificial intelligence applications are designed to excel in a single activity or a restricted set of tasks, such as playing chess, diagnosing diseases, or translating languages.

Traditional AI is smart, but it’s not necessarily responsive. “Other examples of traditional AIs are voice assistants like Siri or Alexa, recommendation engines on Netflix or Amazon, or Google's search algorithm. These AIs have been trained to follow specific rules, do a particular job, and do it well, but they don’t create anything new,” wrote Forbes.

There are plenty of useful applications for traditional AI. Some artificial intelligence spam filters, for instance, use predefined rules to isolate spam emails from your main inbox. Ultimately, however, traditional AI is only as effective as the data used to train the algorithm. It has limited efficacy in streamlining and optimizing your business.

How does traditional AI work?

Traditional AI systems are typically trained on large datasets of labeled data. The system learns to identify the patterns in the data and use them to make predictions or generate outputs.

Here are some examples of traditional AI:

  • Expert systems: These systems are designed to emulate the knowledge and expertise of human experts in a specific field. For example, an expert system could be used to diagnose diseases, troubleshoot technical problems, or provide financial advice.
  • Decision trees: These systems are used to make decisions based on a set of rules. For example, a decision tree could be used to decide whether or not to approve a loan application or to recommend a product to a customer.
  • Natural language processing (NLP): NLP systems are used to understand and generate human language. For example, NLP systems are used in search engines, chatbots, and machine translation systems.

Generative AI could work in tandem with traditional AI to provide even more powerful solutions.

Bernard Marr, Forbes

While traditional AI is still widely used, generative AI is rapidly becoming the preferred technology for business owners across industries.

[Read more: 4 Effective Ways Small Businesses Can Leverage AI]

What is generative AI?

Generative AI is the next evolution of artificial intelligence. Generative artificial intelligence (sometimes known as Strong AI or Creative AI) is able to produce text, video, images, and other types of content. Popular tools like ChatGPT, Bard, and DALL-E are all examples of generative AI. Put simply, the key difference between traditional and generative AI is that generative AI is able to create something new.

“[G]enerative AI models are fed vast quantities of existing content to train the models to produce new content. They learn to identify underlying patterns in the data set based on a probability distribution and, when given a prompt, create similar patterns (or outputs based on these patterns),” wrote Investopedia.

Generative AI relies on machine learning to understand, predict, and create content from data. It takes a massive amount of data for generative AI to function, and machine learning provides the training that fuels the AI to produce its result.

Which type of AI is right for your business?

Traditional and generative AI both have a role in helping to run your business more efficiently.

“While traditional AI and generative AI have distinct functionalities, they are not mutually exclusive,” wrote Forbes. “Generative AI could work in tandem with traditional AI to provide even more powerful solutions. For instance, a traditional AI could analyze user behavior data, and a generative AI could use this analysis to create personalized content.”

Look for repetitive and routine tasks that could be outsourced to AI to take full advantage of these technologies. Sales, marketing, recruiting, and customer service all have activities that could be improved through traditional and generative AI tools.

[Read more: How AI Is Transforming HR With More Sophisticated, Less Biased Recruiting]

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