Artificial intelligence has been quickly taking the world by storm, so it was only a matter of time before the New York City government started to make use of it. For the first time in the country, there is an AI tool specifically for business owners to use to obtain resources and links, and get immediate answers to all of their business-related questions, according to Mayor Eric Adams.
At the behest of a small business advisory created by Adams, the New York Office of Technology developed the tool alongside the city’s Small Business Services in the City Council. Using ChatGPT and Microsoft’s Azure AI technology it provides generative AI chat functions for business owners on the MyCity website.
“It’s revolutionary to think that all these years people have had to navigate page by page, web page by web page, just to find information that they need to start a business in New York City for example or to access capital in New York City,” said SBS Commissioner Kevin Kim.
“And now we have leveraging ChatGPT, this incredible tool that people can use to ask a question and then immediately get the information that you need delivered right to you with all of the links, all of the resources, and it’s a one-stop-shop concept that has finally been brought to reality.”
On Monday Councilman Eric Dinowitz organized a walkthrough, alongside Kim, around Kingsbridge small businesses to inform owners about the new technology and let them know what kind of resources they have.
The two were joined by Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat, Deputy Bronx Borough president Janet Peguero, representatives for Borough president Vanessa Gibson, Community Board 8 chair Julie Reyes and district manager Farrah Rubin and Kingsbridge BID president Andy Williams, executive director Catherine Broihier and assistant manager Jennifer Sproull.
The tour began at the old Land & Sea diner, which is being demolished to transform into a joint Popeyes and Burger King. It continued down Broadway then West 231st Street. Many issues were discussed, such as the vacancies, rising rents, fines, not having enough resources and illegal smoke shops in the area.
The owner of Joan’s Cleaners, a dry cleaning store, told the councilman about a long period of time in which they could not do their work in the building due to an issue with the gas being shut down next door. As a result they had to send their clothes to a separate location to clean, losing lots of revenue in the process.
“These businesses care so deeply about our neighborhood,” Councilman Dinowitz told The Riverdale Press. “They want to stay here. They have deep customer loyalty, we saw that as they were coming in and out of stores today.”
In organizing the event it was important for the councilman not only to let business owners know their options, but also give the commissioner a flavor of what is going on in the neighborhood he represents.
“We have a big city, a very diverse city in terms of our businesses,” Councilman Dinowitz said. “And very often the city makes policy based on Manhattan businesses, the businesses that are by City Hall, and are not anywhere else in the city. And so it’s critical that our commissioners, our city agencies, the people who run the city, know what’s going on in all parts of the city. Geographically we’re very far from city hall so it’s important that we bring them out here so they can see firsthand what’s going on in our local businesses.”
One of the issues Kim did not know about beforehand was the issue of pigeons. It is unfortunately not completely atypical for somebody waiting underneath the Broadway train tracks to receive droppings from above. Kim said that because of the district’s specific challenges it is important they be aware and be good partners to the community to address quality of life issues.
“I think there’s at times a huge disconnect between community and government,” Peguero said to The Press. “And it’s important that people, especially businesses, they have more familiarity with enforcement city agencies, get them familiarized with an agency like the department of small business services to educate and inform and advocate and share an array of resources that are free to our small business owners.”
What are some of those free resources? The SBS provides free inspections to make sure businesses are adhering to codes and regulations, and ensuring public health and safety. The goal of the inspections is to educate.
They are conducted by former inspectors of regulatory agencies that will go into the businesses and point out everything that might get them a fine before the actual inspection occurs.
And more recently, there is the new AI tool to answer any business-related questions an owner or future owner may have.
“Right now the chatbot is in beta,” said SBS press secretary Joseph Jourdan. “It only functions for business questions and only relates to things related to small business and business in New York City. It pulls from 2,000 different web pages and it will answer you any kind of questions you might have about your business so long as it has that information present.”
Jourdan explained how every question is self-contained and doesn’t track anyone’s MyCity profile. A benefit of the tool is that it can be accessed 24/7, so business owners can access it at their convenience.
With the increased use of AI, there have been growing concerns for employees in jobs of many fields being replaced. New York residents also may have recently received AI-generated robocalls of Mayor Adams speaking Spanish, Mandarin, and Yiddish, despite him not actually speaking those languages, informing residents about job placements.
“Technology is moving fast, but under this administration we’re adapting to the new technological revolutions as fast as we can but doing it in a responsible way,” Kim said. “We don’t want AI and ChatGPT to somehow take over the world, but that’s not the goal here.
“All we’re doing is we want to make it easier for humans to be able to take advantage of this tool that will just make things more faster, more efficient for them and at the end of the day ensure their success.”
The AI tool can be accessed at chat.nyc.gov.