Home Professionalisms What Is ‘AI Washing’ And How Can We Stop It?

What Is ‘AI Washing’ And How Can We Stop It?

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by Ed Watal, Founder & Principal at Intellibus

Amid the boom in artificial intelligence’s popularity, some wrongdoers have decided to capitalize on this trend under false pretenses. This practice of making false claims about the use of AI technology has come to be known as “AI washing.” 

AI washing is a misleading, unethical marketing practice that attempts to cash in on a popular trend without offering the benefits of this exciting new technology. Yet, given how novel artificial intelligence technology is, it can be difficult for the average consumer to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate claims about AI use.

Examples of AI washing

One of the most common examples of AI washing is mislabeling other automated technology as AI. Because many people don’t understand the difference between traditional algorithms and artificial intelligence models, some companies will attempt to pass off the former as the latter with unsuspecting consumers. This deceitful practice abuses the misinformation around artificial intelligence technology.

However, some businesses have been found to conduct an even more duplicitous form of AI washing by claiming to use AI when there is little to no integration of the technology in their offering. Many companies like to use buzzwords like “AI-powered” to describe their products or services when their use of artificial intelligence technology is minimal, incidental, or in its early stages.

Why AI washing is a harmful practice

Of course, the most obvious victims of AI washing are the consumers that companies are directly defrauding. If a consumer eager to hop onto the AI train is misled by AI washing into thinking that a product or service offers more of the technology’s advantages than it actually does, they will spend their hard-earned money on a product or service that does not deliver on its promises.

It isn’t just consumers who are hurt by AI washing, though, as the practice has a massively negative impact on the market as a whole. Any money invested in or spent by consumers on products that misrepresent their use of artificial intelligence could be going to innovators who are making legitimate strides to push the technology forward.

However, perhaps the most damaging effect of AI washing is that it will erode the public’s trust in this emerging technology. Because AI is still in its early stages and people are still exploring its capabilities — along with its consequences — many are still reluctant to embrace this new technology with open arms. When the public’s perception of AI is based on misleading products or services that underperform due to their false claims regarding artificial intelligence, they are unlikely to trust future projects that make similar claims.

How we can stop AI washing

Due to the consequences of AI washing, innovators in the artificial intelligence space must push for increased transparency and honesty in products and services using the technology. For a variety of reasons — from the technology itself being difficult to understand to companies’ desire to protect their IP — businesses tend to be somewhat cryptic with their explanations of their use of AI. To thwart AI washing, we must encourage businesses to clearly and understandably explain their use of artificial intelligence and provide evidence of its use when available.

This transparency can arguably only be achieved through oversight. Leaders in the AI sector have the opportunity to develop industry-wide standards and benchmarks that can be used to evaluate AI products and claims. For instance, certification bodies could offer a trustworthy mark of authenticity to help consumers better understand and approach the technology. Outside the industry, regulatory bodies like the SEC can end this practice by enforcing more stringent verification processes and penalties for false claims.

That being said, perhaps the most potent way we can fight against wrongdoers using AI washing to gain an unfair advantage for their business is by improving education and awareness around the practice. When people are more aware of the benefits, features, and shortcomings of legitimate AI products, they are much less likely to fall victim to deceptive claims. Thus, by increasing the discourse around AI, we can help people be more prepared to evaluate AI products for themselves.

While artificial intelligence has the potential to help people and businesses alike, AI washing poses a significant threat to the public’s acceptance of this exciting and innovative technology. By leveraging false claims about the use of AI technology, businesses practicing AI washing distract from and erode trust in legitimate artificial intelligence ventures. Ending this harmful and deceitful practice is key to creating a landscape where AI can be embraced as a transformative force.

 

Ed WatalEd Watal is the founder and principal of Intellibus. He regularly serves as a board advisor to the world’s largest financial institutions. C-level executives rely on him for IT strategy & architecture due to his business acumen & deep IT knowledge. He has also built and sold several Tech & AI startups. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, he worked in some of the largest global financial institutions, including RBS, Deutsche Bank, and Citigroup. He is the author of numerous articles and one of the defining books on cloud fundamentals called ‘Cloud Basics.’