Keeping an eye on AI – top trends SMEs should look out for in 2024

By Robert Cottrill, below, Technology Director at ANS, discusses how SMEs can optimise the latest AI developments in 2024 to improve their businesses

Artificial intelligence has certainly left its mark on 2023, and it is now a key talking point in all workplaces in every industry. But we can expect it to really gain momentum in 2024 as businesses find even more ways to power daily operations with cutting-edge tech. For SMEs in particular, AI tools already exist to transform the way they do business, but exciting new developments are on the horizon for next year. And as SMEs appear to be particularly targeted and vulnerable to AI-powered cyber attacks, we can expect AI’s cyber security capabilities to be a key discussion point in 2024 too.


The stratospheric rise of GenAI

There is no reason that the latest AI should only be available to large businesses. In fact, SMEs can benefit disproportionately by adopting AI into their business practices. SMEs can use AI tools to redirect employee time to higher-value work and improve customer engagement, not to mention AI also unlocks a host of cost-saving benefits. Money saved from streamlining operations with AI allows businesses to invest in new technologies, new product and services lines to fuel growth, and to increase staff wages and benefits.

The rise of generative AI has already proved to be game-changing, with ChatGPT now a staple software in a range of businesses due to its copywriting, research and data processing capabilities. We can expect existing GenAI to improve in 2024, with the release of GPT5 planned to provide better multimodal use and flow down into other products to make them even more efficient. This software has been exposed to more extensive training and it is thought to have even more advanced reasoning capabilities.

The arrival of Microsoft’s biggest step yet into the world of AI will also make shockwaves next year. Microsoft continues to dominate the working world with its ever-popular suite of word processing and spreadsheet software products, and the mass adoption of Copilot mid-next year will see SMEs get efficiency benefits in processes and workflows.

The advancement of AI could also see a rise in EdgeAI, a combination of artificial intelligence and edge computing, running on less powerful devices such as IoTs. These AI workflows will span centralised data centres like the cloud and devices away from the cloud which are in direct contact with humans.

An ‘invisible’ ally

While generative AI currently requires human activity to guide prompts, next year we can expect to see a greater platform for ‘invisible’ AI. Once these tools are enabled within a business, it will no longer require prompts and can work in the background on a wide range of different tasks such as data processing and cyber security.

AI for cyber security

SMEs will need to keep a watchful eye on data privacy, security, transparency and explainability when it comes to implementing invisible AI systems. While AI can be used for malicious purposes, many businesses are optimising AI positively, battling the bots to fend off cyber attacks like phishing scams and malware. In 2024, businesses will need to ensure they are protected against more sophisticated scams and will therefore need to consider the integration of AI-powered cyber security tech in this endeavour.

Breakthroughs in development and legislation

AI systems are only likely to become more sophisticated over the coming year, so we can expect new research to be released in 2024 regarding quantum computing. While we won’t be anywhere near mass adoption next year, AI has the potential to solve complex problems more efficiently than traditional computers. These systems can assist with tasks like route planning and financial portfolio management by processing huge amounts of data, and AI will only help to enhance these operations. Developments in this space may cause a ripple in the academic world, but we’ll have to wait a while until it can make a real difference to a range of businesses.

The Biden administration has recently announced it was taking the first step towards writing key standards for the safe deployment of generative AI to ensure systems are t t tested and safeguarded, and the EU is leading on this front with recent developments regarding the AI Act. The UK isn’t looking to introduce AI legislation in the ‘short term’, according to the first minister for AI and intellectual property.

But with the potential for AI to drive misinformation and increase the sophistication of cyber threats, we may expect the arrival of legislative changes or increased guidance next year as we learn how to adapt to an artificially intelligent world.

The 2024 outlook for SMEs

In 2024 we can expect to see the release of industry-specific AI which is backed by vendors. AI with an industry focus can be consumed outright, rather than having to extend an existing model for the domain context. This means SMEs stand to benefit from AI software tailored to their industries next year which will make it even easier to streamline operations.

AI is designed to do more with less, and SMEs can now consume AI services at a much more cost-effective scale than was once reserved for large enterprises. Enablement and productivity should be at the forefront of every SME’s strategy in 2024, and AI will help to improve accuracy and output across the board.

For SMEs who stand to gain enormously from the rise of AI, from cost and time savings to better understanding of customers and competitors, 2024 looks hugely positive. From innovative tech to enhanced cyber security capabilities, AI has the potential to transform business applications and help SMEs reach their goals quickly with minimal risk. With AI revolution really only just beginning, businesses unsure of where to start should speak to experts to begin their transformation today.