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How AI works to help small businesses succeed on the global stage

When it comes to artificial intelligence, our minds often conjure up images of powerful robots and shadowy algorithms spiraling out of control. This popular perception is no doubt aided by decades of sci-fi films, many of which are simply trying to express the potential of AI in a visceral way.

But as the technology has evolved and gradually entered our everyday lives, the real-world applications of AI and machine learning have been notably less dramatic.

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Nowhere is that more true than in the world of small business. Small business owners don’t need an autonomous android, they need help with expenses, taxes, payroll and compliance, so they can focus on the product. And they need access to capital and other resources in order to compete with larger players.

Fortunately, tools that leverage AI and machine learning are available to business owners and can help with these hurdles in a straightforward manner.

“There’s a tendency to talk about AI as a futuristic sci-fi movement,” says Marianna Tessel, CTO of Intuit. “We’re interested in the futuristic aspects but we also see how it can improve lives and empower entrepreneurs, right here and right now, even if it’s in a seemingly mundane way.”

Misconceptions about AI can keep small business owners from taking advantage of new tools. Some might believe it’s too complex for what they need. Others might hesitate for fear of losing control or dehumanizing their operation.

We’ve teamed up with Intuit to clear up some of the most common misconceptions about AI and machine learning, so that small business owners can enjoy the benefits of more time and greater opportunity.

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An example of how QuickBooks Self-Employed helps business owners track and categorize expenses.

Myth: I’m not technically savvy enough to use something like artificial intelligence or machine learning.

Technologies like AI can be intimidating for non-technologists, especially given the hype and attention they regularly get. In reality, most tools that leverage AI are designed so that the end user doesn’t need to have a degree in computer science in order to use them.

“While the back end [of this technology] has a sophisticated knowledge engine, the front end is transparent and easy to use,” says Tessel, referring to Intuit’s small business products.

Deb Chang, founder of Ginger Lab, a small business in California that makes handcrafted ginger beer, can identify. She uses QuickBooks Online to organize her expenses and rarely thinks about the artificial intelligence that supports it.

“Expenses are automatically matched with a category based on past labels,” says Chang. “I just click a button to confirm and that’s it.”

Myth: I don’t want to replace my people with machines or automate important aspects of my business.

Most AI today is powerful because it works with humans, not against them. A good application of AI enhances human interactions and capabilities by offering suggestions and recommendations based on algorithms and knowledge engines. Rather than exclude you, it bolsters you. And it leaves you in control of the final decisions.

“This combination of machines and humans is important,” says Tessel. “AI can be a bridge, connecting small business owners with experts and making the interaction more productive so they can better help their customers.”

Myth: I don’t trust AI. I don’t know how it works or how it comes up with its responses.

While it’s great to have a simple user interface, it begs the question of what exactly goes on in a complex AI-powered program. Especially when dealing with sensitive topics like taxes or compliance, most small business owners want to understand why a tool suggested something or how it came to a specific result.

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Developers understand this common hang-up and now keep transparency in mind when deploying new products. Tools such as Intuit’s ExplainWhy feature help demystify what goes on underneath the surface and what bubbles up to the user.

When small business owners understand how AI works, they can rest easy.

“It gives me peace of mind,” says Chang. “It’s like having another pair of eyes to confirm things, so I can stress less. The back office stuff is important, but it’s not fun. These tools allow me to spend more time on what I’m passionate about, like thinking of cool new Ginger Beer flavors and testing them in the lab, instead of sitting in front of a computer crunching reports.”


Prosperity means different things to different people. When it comes to designing tomorrow’s technology for the customer of today, Intuit engineers believe that they’re not just solving coding and data problems, they’re leveraging the most recent advancements in technology that change the lives of millions of people. To learn more about how Intuit works to solve the world’s hardest problems with technology like image recognition, CUI and assisted experiences to power prosperity throughout the world, visit intuitcareers.com.