Artificial Intelligence is the next industrial revolution

“We don’t want Springfield to miss it.”

By Annie Fulgenzi

The next Industrial Revolution is here, whether you are prepared for it or not. According to local experts who recently took part in a panel discussion on the state of Artificial Intelligence, the consensus was: You can either get in, or get left behind.

Artificial Intelligence in the business world refers to the implementation of intelligent computer systems that analyze data, learn patterns and make informed decisions to streamline operations, enhance customer experiences and drive innovation and efficiency. Most commonly, businesses are using AI in hiring practices and fulfilling mundane daily tasks, such as writing emails and letters, scheduling meetings or doing research. Though the technology is still relatively new, its applications are advancing rapidly in a wide array of industries.

Businesses and entrepreneurs in Springfield are beginning to recognize the potential of AI and are eager to learn more about how they can implement and capitalize on the revolutionary new technology, according to Bruce Sommer, director of economic development and innovation at University of Illinois Springfield.

When UIS and Innovate Springfield co-hosted their “Current State of AI” panel discussion April 13, Sommer said he was thrilled by the level of interest demonstrated by the over 150 attendees.

“I’ve been at the university for 12 years, and started in this administrative position four years ago when we were launching our Innovation Center and Illinois Innovation Network. [Compared to past programs], I’ve never seen more activity from the community,” said Sommer. “Springfield is not the most innovative or progressive community – we tend to be late-adopters. But with AI, the interest is double, triple what we’ve seen in the past with our local entrepreneurs.”

During the panel discussion, participants from various industries shared their experiences of how AI is benefiting their sectors. For example, a representative from the medical field discussed how AI is being utilized for diagnosing and treatment. In finance, AI can be employed for tasks like data analysis, risk assessment and developing investment portfolios. An official from the Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology even discussed how the government is beginning to adopt AI to better connect citizens with public resources.

Jeff Schneider, founder and CEO of marketing performance platform BrandOps and local AI expert, said that he recommends businesses begin experimenting with the technology to see how it could benefit them.

“An example I give is to prompt the AI to look at 10 of my competitors’ websites, analyze their marketing message, compare and contrast them, write up a summary and send it to my staff as a PDF and schedule a meeting for us to discuss it at a later point in time,” said Schneider. “The easiest application we see is businesses using it to write their marketing copy. Blog posts, press releases, emails that go out to customers, things of that nature – it does a good job of mimicking a style of a brand for the purposes of efficiently writing copy at a cost-effective price of under a nickel per blog post.” While there are still many that are more hesitant to embrace AI, Schneider believes it’s only a matter of time before it is unavoidable.

“You’re not going to have a choice, really. The analogy is like the emergence of the internet,” said Schneider. “Whether you want it or not, AI-based agents are going to be the way that you interact with businesses, government agencies, academic institutions – it’s a-coming, so it’s a matter of whether you go into it kicking and screaming or by trying to find ways to leverage it to increase your IQ, make more money and be more productive.”

This realization is what prompted Schneider and Sommer to partner in creating a business accelerator in Springfield that will provide AI technologists and entrepreneurs with financing and business and technology know-how.

“I am currently leading Innovate Springfield, but I’m scheduled to leave the university this summer to fully launch Thought Studio,” Sommer explained. “Both Jeff Schneider and I are founders of Thought Studio, and hope this effort will significantly benefit Springfield and the region in growing our technology economy through a variety of AI companies and attract more technology talent to Springfield,” said Sommer.

Schneider and Sommer say they look forward to working with entrepreneurs to develop their AI start-ups as well as helping existing local businesses find new innovative ways to implement the technology into their existing operations.

“We don’t want Springfield to miss the AI revolution,” said Sommer. “If you’re an entrepreneur, you really need to be on the cutting edge of AI right now because your competitor is going to be and you’re going to be outcompeted if you’re not.”


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