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Is the local business ecosystem embracing AI?

Mark Parker



From left: Joe Hamilton, Catalyst publisher and head of network for Cityverse; Nawal Taneja, global aviation expert and Seedfunders partner; Ashok Kartha, founder of; and Matthew Grote, founder of HIBI AI. Photos by Mark Parker.

At a recent committee meeting, St. Petersburg City Councilmember Ed Montanari said the world is on the precipice of an artificial intelligence (AI) “revolution.”

He broached the topic as city officials discussed implementing an exponentially more advanced permitting software system to mitigate backlogs and streamline processes. Montanari noted that the extensive presentation lacked any references to AI and asked if the technology could increase planning and development efficiencies.

Aaron Baggerly, vice president at Matrix Consulting Group, said AI could soon aid customer service efforts. “For the building code, I think there’s probably going to be a lot of functionality in the five-to-10-year future because the building code is a little more black and white,” he said.

“The zoning code is very specific to every city, and that is very challenging for AI to understand and filter,” Baggerly continued. “So, zoning is going to take a little bit longer, I feel.”

While many business leaders believe AI and machine learning’s best use cases remain undeveloped – and wary of copyright and privacy concerns – industry proponents encourage them to become early adopters. That was a recurring theme at the University of South Florida’s Research and Innovation Park Tuesday evening.

TIE Tampa Bay, part of the world’s largest nonprofit entrepreneurial organization, hosted the event, titled “Inspire & Innovate: A Fusion of Show & Tell and AI Mastery.” Joe Hamilton, Catalyst publisher and head of network for Cityverse, moderated a panel featuring Ashok Kartha, founder of; Matthew Grote, founder of HIBI AI; and Nawal Taneja, global aviation expert and Seedfunders partner.

Grote, whose company teaches general AI and prompt-engineering skills, was reluctant to definitively state if the local business ecosystem is ready to capitalize on the latest technological revolution. He said that would require university program analysis and recruitment firm data.

“My shoot-from-the-hip answer is ‘no, absolutely not,'” Grote added. “If the vision for the future … is that St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay is not just the center for AI in the state – it could be a center for AI in the country – then yes, we need way more capacity than we have right now.”

Grote hopes to increase access to educational programs that foster AI development. He called potential local and state government subsidies “an investment in people that could pay enormous dividends.”

Taneja, the panel’s elder statesman, said AI concepts are not new. He noted that people have input data into computers to receive desired outputs for decades.

As a consultant, Taneja said business leaders often ask him if the latest trends are hype or reality. He believes both descriptors are inaccurate.

“We’re beginning to see some results,” Taneja said. “But to get to a level where we have confidence in the results is going to take some time.”

Kartham said humans create technologies to augment their capabilities. He added that all advancements are inherently risky.

Kartham used the initial risks associated with flight as an example. However, people invented better planes and implemented protocols and regulations to increase safety.

“It’s the same thing with AI,” Kartham said. “We’ll find ways to manage it, make it safer and apply it to the right applications.”

Multiple attendees expressed concerns that utilizing AI would expose proprietary data. The panelists explained that internal systems differed from open-sourced large language models like ChatGPT.

Grote said data breaches are always possible, as with any online application. He said company leadership must decide their risk aversion and what information they feel comfortable uploading.

Grote compared AI concerns and limitations to early iterations of the internet and social media. He also noted that many early adopters became extremely successful and launched lucrative careers.

Hamilton believes the humans controlling AI present the real danger. “Bad actors” can spread disinformation and influence online behavior, he said, a specific threat in an election year.

However, Hamilton said the printing press once “scared people out of their minds. I think AI will follow the standard developmental process humans go through – fear it, understand it and control it.”

Grote said education can eliminate barriers to expertise and increase economic opportunities. Conversely, he said opponents are ceding ground to those bad actors.

“The sooner people embrace the way it exists now, the better off they are going to be,” Grote said.





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