Commentary by Ron Guerrier, Chief Information Officer of Farmers Insurance®

Ask enough people about "artificial intelligence," and sooner or later someone will bring up the HAL 9000 computer from 1968's "2001: A Space Odyssey." Having discovered a human conspiracy to disconnect it, HAL goes on the offensive, refusing to allow the guilty party back into the spaceship. "I'm sorry, Dave," says HAL, "I'm afraid I can't do that." 

A closer look at artificial information, however, paints a much more favorable forecast for the impact this technology will have on society. In fact, if history is any guide, business owners and entrepreneurs can expect AI to play a wide-ranging and positive role in creating new opportunities. 

There will, of course, be the disruptions that inevitably accompany the arrival of powerful new technologies. But according to a study of occupational trends by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation in the United States over the past 165 years, forecasts of massive job losses due to AI are unfounded.

AI is expected to relieve humans of mundane tasks and create new, more fulfilling jobs. It also might help supercharge productivity, and according to a report by Accenture, this could lift U.S. economic growth from 2.6% annually to 4.6% by 2035. So the overall potential of AI could be transformative.

However, business owners should start preparing now for the arrival of artificial intelligence to their industries. Those that fail to keep pace with technological advances may find the journey to AI will take longer.

To help assess whether your company is prepared for artificial intelligence, here are five questions you may want to ask yourself and your leadership team before making the leap. 

1. Have we asked ourselves why yet?

While the potential of AI is real, some companies have been taken in by the hype and have launched all-encompassing projects to help transform their businesses overnight. The good news is that you can start with small steps. In fact, a recent study of 152 corporate AI projects by Deloitte revealed thathighly ambitious projects are less likely to be successful than those that are more limited in scope. So instead of attempting to apply AI to your whole business all at once, you might start with a project that merely seeks to improve an existing process.

2. Are we a digital-first business already?

If you haven't digitized your processes, moving them from the world of paper and pen, you may not be ready for AI. Here, entrepreneurs and small businesses will, in many cases, have an advantage. As newer companies, many of them were launched when digitization was the norm, so your company may already make greater use of cloud-computing, big data, and other AI-ready technology, all of which can make adding AI apps more seamless. In traditional businesses, however, processes and technology may not be readily adaptable for AI applications. So if your company is one of the latter, digitization probably should come first.

3. How clean and rich is our data?

Remember the classic data acronym GIGO--garbage in, garbage out. The benefits of AI won't be realized if the data isn't sound, so your data needs to be in good shape before the integration. Until you've got this type of accuracy, it might be best to stick to more traditional technology. The effectiveness of any AI application will depend on the quality of the data. It may also be necessary to expand your data resources. The data required for AI should be both massive and rich. So, you may want to consider increasing the amount and types you are collecting or supplement it from an outside source.

4. Do we want to be transparent or opaque?

AI comes in two broad varieties, opaque and transparent.Opaque AI operates in vague ways that even it may not be able to explain. This can be useful in areas such as marketing where you may be looking for a variety of creative solutions to a problem. Transparent AI, on the other hand, follows logical rules, and decisions can be explained in a clear, rational manner. Which one you choose depends on the application that best fits your business. If decisions made by the AI app will ever have to be explained to higher-ups or external parties, you may want to go with transparent.

5. Do we have the skill in-house?

Hiring AI expertise is often difficult, given the scarcity of those skills. So consider finding a third party to help. A survey by McKinsey & Co. of 3,000 executives showed that only a minority built their AI platforms exclusively with in-house talent. 

If you're like many business owners and entrepreneurs, the transition to AI may seem intimidating. But the technology is here to stay, so even the most tech-averse companies will need to adapt or risk being left behind. It may be best to start preparing your business for AI - and remember that with this technology, it's okay to start small.