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Can A.I. Answer the Needs of Smaller Businesses? Some Push to Find Out.

Artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT are finding widest use at big companies, but there is wide expectation that the impact will spread.

The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce has convened an annual meeting of local business leaders since the 1800s, but the most recent gathering had a decidedly modern theme: artificial intelligence.

The goal was to demystify the technology for the chamber’s roughly 2,000 members, especially its small businesses.

“My sense is not that people are wary,” said Ralph Schulz, the chamber’s chief executive. “They’re just unclear as to its potential use for them.”

When generative A.I. surged into the public consciousness in late 2022, it captured the imagination of businesses and workers with its ability to answer questions, compose paragraphs, write code and create images. Analysts projected that the technology would transform the economy by driving a boom in productivity.

Yet so far, the impact has been limited. Although adoption of A.I. is rising, only about 5 percent of companies nationwide are using the technology, according to a survey of businesses from the Census Bureau. Many economists predict that generative A.I. is years away from measurably affecting economic activity — but they say change will come.

“To me, this is a story of five years, not five quarters,” said Philipp Carlsson-Szlezak, the global chief economist at Boston Consulting Group. “Over a five-year horizon, am I going to see something measurable? I think so.”

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