A Primer on AI for Associations

GavinSantana_AI primer November 7, 2023 By: Amy Gavin, CAE and Elizabeth Santana, CAE

We’ve all been hearing and reading about AI for months now. But what is it, what is it not, what are the risks, and how can associations begin to use the technology? Read on for answers to these questions and more.

The digital landscape is ever evolving, and one of the major technology buzzwords this year has been artificial intelligence, or AI. However, AI is not merely a buzzword, but rather a shift in technology that will change how we work, if it has not already.

What Is AI?

Artificial intelligence itself is nothing new. In fact, the term was coined in 1955 and the first AI conference was held at Dartmouth College the following year. However, the concept and technology has evolved since 1955 and become integrated into our daily lives in many ways—some noticeable and some not.

AI refers to the simulation of human intelligence in machines that can perform tasks typically requiring intelligence from a human (e.g., synthesizing across sources of information). This encompasses a wide range of techniques and technologies:

  • Generative AI. The newest generation of AI that is publicly accessible and is sparking conversation. Generative AI creates content on demand, such as text, images, video, or audio outputs. Generative AI includes models like convolutional neural networks (CNNs) and large language models (LLMs).
  • Natural language processing. NLP enables AI to understand and generate human language, facilitating communication between machines and humans through text and speech.
  • Computer vision. AI can interpret and process visual information, enabling applications like facial recognition, image classification, and autonomous navigation for robots.
  • Problem solving. AI can tackle complex problems and optimize solutions, from logistics and supply chain management to healthcare and finance.
  • Decision-making. AI systems can make decisions based on data and predefined rules, allowing them to perform tasks such as detecting fraud, making recommendations, and autonomous vehicle driving.
  • Machine learning. While ML is not in the class of AI making news recently, it's often viewed as the predecessor to current developments in AI. ML is a common subset of AI that uses algorithms to enable systems to learn from data and improve their performance over time. It can perform such tasks as data analysis and automation.

What Is AI Not?

AI is not conscious or self-aware; it lacks emotion, moral, and ethical values. AI is also not infallible: It can make errors and relies on the quality of training data and design of algorithms. AI is not free of bias. This is especially important for associations, whose work centers around people. AI can inherit biases from the data used to train it, leading to biased decisions and outcomes. Most importantly, AI is not a human replacement.

Embracing AI as Associations

Associations should be encouraged by the dual opportunity to both educate and provide guidance to members on AI’s impact and possibilities and harness AI themselves to improve services and operations. Doing so will ultimately foster a more informed and technology proficient community.

However, as associations delve into new technology, it’s important to assuage the fears of staff and members illustrate to them how AI is an approachable, accessible, and assistive technology that can help associations excel. Here are five ways you can begin to embrace the technology:

  1. Use generative AI to enhance your marketing language.
  2. Employ chatbots on your website to answer member questions.
  3. Create your own images to fill your exact needs.
  4. Draft exam questions for continuing-education credits.
  5. Automate tasks to increase productivity.

Risks and Guidelines

The rapid proliferation of AI products is outpacing the development of legal frameworks, which has led to challenges in areas such as intellectual property, copyright, data privacy, and security. This is important to consider for input and output of AI products. Associations should also provide guidance to staff and members on the risks of submitting any intellectual property or private data to an AI product and of claiming authorship and ownership of content generated by AI.

In addition to legal concerns, it is important that association staff monitor AI outputs closely. As previously mentioned, AI can create biased outputs and datasets may need to be updated. Generative AI is known to hallucinate or create false information that often masquerades well and can be mistaken as truth. This means that any generative AI outputs must be carefully fact-checked before use.

Ultimately, AI is the intersection of technology and creativity. The recent accessibility of AI presents associations with an opportunity to adopt this robust technology and a responsibility to do so thoughtfully. As stewards for our association members and stakeholders, we must be transparent and maintain high standards for leaders in our respective fields. The benefits from this valuable addition to the association toolkit will continue to grow with the technology.

Authors’ note: AI was used in the development of this article to generate ideas, gather information, construct sentences, ensure proper grammar, and produce an image.

Amy Gavin, CAE

Amy Gavin, CAE, is director of digital strategy for the American Society for Nutrition.

Elizabeth Santana, CAE

Elizabeth Santana, MBA, CPTD, ICE-CCP, CAE, is director of conceptual research and design for Inteleos.