Someday, when historians write about the early days of artificial intelligence, the chapter on the early 2020s may be entitled “The Awkward Years.” 

But at least things aren’t boring.

The rapid adoption of tools like Midjourney, ChatGPT, and countless others shows just how excited people are about the potential of these tools. The potential to save time, the potential to develop new skills, the potential to augment our productivity, and more.

A.I. also gives us the infinite potential to waste time. 

As Gusto’s Head of Data, it’s my job to recognize the opportunity that A.I. presents us, and explore how we can best apply it. (This might be in my actual job description.) That’s why we’re putting artificial intelligence right to work. Time and money are the two most precious resources for small and medium businesses (SMBs), so we’re using A.I. to save them both. 

Tax notice prevention and customized reporting are areas where we’re starting to roll out new features in our endless quest to support small business success (more details on this below). In each case, we’re exploring how artificial intelligence can deliver on its potential: to serve people by augmenting their skills and productivity, not replacing them.

Since this feels like a 21st Century gold rush, you can expect a spectrum of players with a spectrum of reliability. Opportunity attracts opportunists, so credibility will be of the utmost importance. My responsibility is to assemble the best team possible to build the most useful and credible technology supplemented by A.I.

I’m the new data guy

I’m a drummer trained in the symphony and jazz swing traditions, so people assume my musical taste is sophisticated or exclusive. And you’d be half right. It’s sophisticated and exclusive in that my favorite songs check off a particular set of criteria. But I have favorite songs in every genre: hip hop, punk rock, metal, country, indie, and more. This has given me broad appreciation for how artists at the top of their craft carefully construct a song—what goes in, and what stays out.

What’s that got to do with data? Everything!

My work as a data leader spans the tech, academia, and nonprofit worlds. These experiences have forced me to look far into the future, trying to use data today to work on deep problems that might take longer to solve. But it’s also allowed me to appreciate the rapid iteration needed to innovate in the present. In each case, I chose to work somewhere that met my set criteria.

It was no different when I decided to join Gusto as Head of Data. I knew I wanted to work here after meeting the company’s leaders. Not only did I identify with their shared vision of creating a world where work empowers a better life, but on a more fundamental level, we all have a profound desire to solve problems and help people.

This confluence of things—creativity, A.I.’s potential, the problems Gusto solves for small business—will define my work here. 

Artificial intelligence today = Exciting + Slightly humiliating

Artificial intelligence has long lived in our imaginations through books, TV, and movies. Naturally, humans are drawn to stories about A.I. that has gone wrong and posed an existential threat to humanity—Skynet from the Terminator movies is a popular example. In other others, A.I. greatly helps humanity, like  the character Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation. 

The reality is we’re a long way from both utopian splendor and complete annihilation. Right now, artificial intelligence is, in some sense, the smartest-looking dumb tool any of us have ever seen. Generative tools like ChatGPT and others create with such ease and confidence, it’s no wonder we’re often fooled when it produces something that’s laughably wrong or caught off guard when it’s malinformed.

But just because many of these A.I. tools are in their awkward teen phase doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use them or that we can’t be excited about the possibilities for the future. In fact, despite some embarrassments, many of these tools work very well, which is validated by the millions of people who are already using and experimenting with them in their everyday lives and work. 

This is why Gusto isn’t standing on the sidelines but running–intentionally, cautiously–toward the opportunity. The potential for A.I. to solve problems and make an impact for small businesses is too great. 

How Gusto is building with A.I. 

It’s critical that Gusto applies A.I. in ways that will be meaningful to small businesses. So naturally, we’ve decided to focus on the resources these business owners lack most—time and money. If we can build solutions with A.I. that save our customers one or the other or both, then we’ll continue to lead the pack as the people platform of choice.

And that’s why I’m excited to tell you about what our teams have been working on; they will save small businesses time and money. This is the best news I get to share: If you’re a small business on Gusto, you won’t have to wait long to see the benefits of A.I. Here’s what to expect:

Prevention and faster resolution of tax notices 

Entrepreneurs don’t start businesses to become tax experts. So when communication from a tax authority hits the mailbox, all sorts of bad feelings come up—intimidation, dread, frustration, anger, and confusion, to name a few. Anyone attempting to resolve these notices on their own will spend an obscene amount of time trying to do so. Not to mention that inaction can mean missing deadlines, resulting in penalties and interest that few small businesses can afford.  

When it comes to preventing tax notices, we’ll have done our job if our customers don’t know that we’ve done our job. As an example where we believe A.I. can help, when a customer gets a physical tax notice in the mail, they simply scan or upload a photo of it to Gusto. A.I. then can automatically determine what the content of the notice and, for many types of notices, resolve it in real time. Feelings of dread immediately give way to feelings of delight seconds later when the customer is reassured that there is nothing more for to worry about.

Customized reports, built faster

At any given time, it’s difficult for businesses to know how their business is performing. Savvy business operators want accurate information to precise questions, and that can be hard to come by. Many technology platforms provide the bare minimum in terms of reporting, and even what is available doesn’t have a lot of flexibility. The result is a lot of frustrated people spending a lot of time trying to create a special report to answer basic questions about their business. Imagine how great it would be if you could just type out the question you have, and a report that answers that question is automatically generated for you. 

That’s the vision for Gusto’s new A.I. report assistant. We want to make it simple to ask the assistant for what you want by typing it into a box, in plain text, and get a custom report created for you. For example, you might ask the assistant, “How much time off did my employees take last quarter?” You’ll get back a custom report that contains the correct rows, columns, and time-filters that will enable you to easily answer the question. 

No more searching for columns, no more wrangling with filters, no more messing with pivot tables. More time spent using answers, less time spent getting them in the first place. With more answers delivered faster, customers can make decisions faster, creating more value for their business in the process.

Job post generator

Last but not least, we come to hiring talent. Everyone has heard about how businesses of all sizes have struggled to fill countless job openings. If you’re a big business, you’ll probably do what big businesses do: throw money at the problem. Increase the salaries, the benefits, the perks, whatever you can think of to attract the people you need.

Small businesses don’t have that luxury, of course. Finding the right people to hire and then going through the process of hiring them can be arduous. Not to mention the time spent just creating and describing the job you want someone to do. 

Our new job post generator will allow users to generate high quality, accurate job descriptions quickly and then customize them to suit their specific needs, reducing the time required from hours to minutes. Minutes. This will allow you to spend more time on the most critical aspect of hiring: meeting the people who might become part of your team.

Let me just also say: part of our responsibility in using artificial intelligence to simplify the creation of job roles is to remain conscious of its flaws. People will still need to review the output of these tools to ensure that it doesn’t contain exclusionary or potentially prohibitive language. We are striving to build a platform that can credibly claim that it serves everyone, and that is how we will incorporate A.I. into our work.

It’s a bit cliche for a tech leader to say this, but I mean it: It’s an exciting time. 

Artificial intelligence is growing up before our eyes. Right now, it’s in this weird place where it’s figuring itself out, and whether or not it realizes it, laying the groundwork of who it will be. As someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about technology and the world we’re building for future generations, I feel a great responsibility to help put A.I. down the right path.

That’s why I feel great about my choice to join Gusto. It’s a place filled with people who want to solve problems that can make a difference for lots of businesses which in turn makes a difference for a lot more people. The tools we’re working on right now and rolling out over the coming months are just the beginning of what I hope will be a transformative time for small businesses and all the people that depend on them to live their best lives.

Jeremy Welland Jeremy Welland is the Chief Data Officer at Gusto, overseeing Gusto’s Data Science, Business Intelligence, Data Platform, and People Insights teams. Prior to joining Gusto, he held senior global leadership roles in data science and analytics at Google and PayPal. Jeremy was also a professor of data science at the University of the Pacific’s School of Engineering and Computer Science.
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