What is ‘AI washing’ and why is it an issue? | EUROtoday

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By Emma Woollacott, Technology reporter

Getty Images A shopper walking out of an Amazon Fresh store in London in 2021Getty Images

Amazon needed to defend using AI expertise in its bodily grocery shops

Amazon obtained crucial headlines this yr when experiences questioned the “Just Walk Out” expertise put in at a lot of its bodily grocery shops.

The AI-powered system permits prospects at its Amazon Fresh and Amazon Go retailers to easily choose their objects, after which depart.

Open to individuals who have registered by way of an app, the AI makes use of facial recognition expertise, and plenty of sensors and cameras, to work out what you could have chosen. You then get mechanically billed.

However, again in April it was broadly reported that quite than solely utilizing AI, Just Walk Out wanted round 1,000 employees in India to manually verify virtually three quarters of the transactions.

Amazon was fast to assert that the experiences had been “erroneous”, and that workers in India weren’t reviewing video footage from all of the retailers.

Instead it mentioned that the Indian employees had been merely reviewing the system. Amazon added that “this is no different than any other AI system that places a high value on accuracy, where human reviewers are common”.

However, Amazon additionally confirmed that it might be decreasing the variety of shops that used the Just Walk Out system.

Whatever the precise particulars of the Amazon case, it’s a high-profile instance of a brand new and rising query – whether or not firms are making over-inflated claims about their use of AI. It is a phenomenon that has been dubbed “AI washing” in reference to the environmental “green washing”.

But first, a reminder of what precisely AI means. While there is no such thing as a precise definition, AI permits computer systems to be taught and remedy issues. AI is ready to do that after first being educated on big quantities of knowledge.

The particular sort of AI that has made all of the headlines over the previous few years is so-called “generative AI”. This is AI that specialises in creating new content material, be it having textual content conversations, or producing music or photographs.

Chatbots like ChatGPT, Google’s Gemini, and Microsoft’s Copilot are standard examples of generative AI.

When it involves AI washing, there are a number of varieties. Some firms declare to make use of AI after they’re really utilizing less-sophisticated computing, whereas others overstate the efficacy of their AI over current methods, or counsel that their AI options are absolutely operational when they aren’t.

Meanwhile, different corporations are merely bolting an AI chatbot onto their current non-AI working software program.

While solely 10% of tech start-ups talked about utilizing AI of their pitches in 2022, this rose to greater than 1 / 4 in 2023, in accordance with OpenOcean, a UK and Finland-based funding fund for brand spanking new tech corporations. It expects that determine to be greater than a 3rd this yr.

And, says OpenOcean crew member Sri Ayangar, competitors for funding and the will to seem on the leading edge have pushed some such firms to overstate their AI capabilities.

“Some founders seem to believe that if they don’t mention AI in their pitch, this may put them at a disadvantage, regardless of the role it plays in their solution,” says Mr Ayangar.

“And from our analysis, a significant disparity exists between companies claiming AI capabilities, and those demonstrating tangible AI-driven results.”

Sri Ayangar Sri AyangarSri Ayangar

Sri Ayangar says that some start-up bosses really feel they only have to say AI

It is an issue that has quietly existed for a lot of years, in accordance with knowledge from one other tech funding agency, MMC Ventures. In a 2019 research it discovered that 40% of latest tech corporations that described themselves as “AI start-ups” in reality used nearly no AI in any respect.

“The problem is the same today, plus a different problem,” says Simon Menashy, common companion at MMC Ventures.

He explains that “cutting-edge AI capabilities” are actually accessible for each firm to purchase for the value of normal software program. But that as an alternative of constructing an entire AI system, he says many corporations are merely popping a chatbot interface on prime of a non-AI product.

Dougal Dick, UK head of rising expertise danger at accountancy big KPMG, says the issue of AI washing isn’t helped by the actual fact there not a single agreed definition of AI.

“If I requested a room of individuals what their definition of AI is, they might all give a special reply,” he says. “The term is used very broadly and loosely, without any clear point of reference. It is this ambiguity that is allowing AI washing to emerge.

“AI washing can have concerning impacts for businesses, from overpaying for technology and services to failing to meet operational objectives the AI was expected to help them achieve.”

Meanwhile, for investors it can make it harder to identify genuinely innovative companies.

And, says Mr Ayangar: “If consumers have unmet expectations from products that claim to offer advanced AI-driven solutions, this can erode trust in start-ups that are doing genuinely ground-breaking work.”

Regulators, in the US at least, are starting to take notice. Earlier this year, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said it was charging two investment advisory firms with making false and misleading statements about the extent of their use of AI.

“The firm stance taken by the SEC demonstrates a lack of leeway when it comes to AI washing, indicating that, at least in the US, we can expect more fines and sanctions down the line for those who violate the regulations,” says Nick White, partner at international law firm Charles Russell Speechlys.

Nick White Nick WhiteNick White

Nick White says that it is good to see US regulators clamping down on the problem

In the UK, rules and laws covering AI washing are already in place, including the Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA’s) code of conduct, which states that marketing communications must not materially mislead, or be likely to do so.

Michael Cordeaux, associate in the regulatory team at UK corporate law firm Walker Morris, says that AI claims have become an increasingly common feature of advertisements subject to ASA investigation.

Examples include a paid-for Instagram post about an app captioned “Enhance your Photos with AI”, which was held by the ASA to be exaggerating the performance of the app, and was therefore misleading.

“What is clear is that AI claims are becoming increasingly prevalent and, presumably, effective at piquing consumer interest,” says Mr Cordeaux.

“In my opinion we are at the peak of the AI hype cycle,” says Sandra Wachter, a professor of expertise and regulation at Oxford University, and a number one world skilled on AI.

“However, I feel that we have forgotten to ask if it always makes sense to use AI for all types of tasks. I remember seeing advertisements in the London Tube for electric toothbrushes that are powered by AI. Who is this for? Who is helped by this?”

Also, the environmental impact of AI is often glossed over, she says.

“AI does not grow on trees… the technology already contributes more to climate change than aviation. We have to move away from this one-sided overhyped discussion, and really think about specific tasks and sectors that AI can be beneficial for, and not just blindly implement it into everything.”

But in the long run, says Advika Jalan, head of analysis at MMC Ventures, the issue of AI washing could subside by itself.

“AI is becoming so ubiquitous – even if they’re just ChatGPT wrappers – that ‘AI-powered’ as a branding tool will likely cease to be a differentiator after some time,” she says. “It will be a bit like saying ‘we’re on the internet’.”