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Published November 2nd 2023

Using AI in Business: Ethical Dilemmas to Consider

We dove into the social data to see how consumers are discussing the ethics of AI across industries.

Global adoption of artificial intelligence is on the rise, with a third of companies currently using AI. And with this surge in AI permeating the business world, questions are being raised about the ethicalities of utilizing AI in business.

With the global AI Safety Summit happening this week, we decided to explore the online conversation about AI ethics in business.

So, what do brands need to consider when it comes to the ethicalities of implementing AI?

Let’s find out. 

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Mentions about the ethics of AI are on the rise

We used Brandwatch Consumer Research to see what people are saying about AI ethics online. And the conversation is skyrocketing.

There have been over 700k online mentions about AI ethics this year so far. This conversation is growing alongside the wider adoption of AI in our daily lives, and there are suddenly many opinions on how AI should be governed when it comes to business processes.

When looking at the prominent emotions in this conversation, we can learn more about the concerns people have about the ethics of AI.

Early last year, joy was the most prevalent emotion in this conversation. And it continues to rise alongside the boom in AI-related online mentions. Yet, angry mentions have several times risen to a peak and are overtaking these positive mentions most months. We’ll dig into these peaks later.

Amidst all this, fearful mentions have also crept up. 

Among the mentions expressing concerns about AI, consumers are debating how it should be implemented and monitored. It’s clear that brands using AI in unethical ways face public criticism, so it’s important to get it right.

With the increase in these conflicting emotions about AI and its ethics, it seems that most consumers aren’t yet sure how they feel about their favorite brands using AI. 

However, some general themes are emerging about what’s considered right or wrong. Let’s take a look.

Industry concerns with AI

As is expected with any new technology, artificial intelligence’s purpose is being questioned across industries.

For example, its use in recruitment processes raises questions about bias and fairness. Concerns can be directed at the potential discrimination in the selection of candidates, as well as the perpetuation of existing biases when training AI. 

A study published in SpringerLink looked into this deeply, concluding that “AI recruiting does not inherently conflict with human rights.” However, the study also argues that whether AI recruiting conflicts with ethical principles heavily depends on the conditions under which AI recruiting tools are used.

The financial sector is also an area of concern when it comes to AI implementation. In fact, 83% of sentiment-categorized mentions about the ethics of AI in the finance sector have been negative so far this year. In a survey by the World Economic Forum, 58% of respondents were worried that the adoption of AI could increase the risk of bias and discrimination in the financial system.

Using AI in marketing is also becoming more common. An astonishing 44% of marketers have used AI for content production. While the methods for using AI vary greatly, there are concerns about the extent to which artificial intelligence can deceive customers – such as through fake reviews or social media posts

And it doesn’t stop there. Concerns about AI’s adoption are spreading across all industries as consumers question if businesses are being ethical about their use of such software.

Let’s look deeper into a sector where AI is even more controversial: creative industries.

Using AI for creative purposes

As we saw in our earlier chart, there have been two significant surges in angry mentions in the past year, both triggered by a viral discussion about the ethics of using generative AI for creative tasks. 

December’s surge was sparked by a post from popular comic artist Mike Mignola.

The post got over 75k likes, with fans agreeing that AI-generated images shouldn’t be allowed – that they’re unethical. An argument for their unethicality can be attributed to the idea that artificial intelligence programs could threaten creative jobs and risk copyright infringement.

There was also a spike in angry mentions in June when a post went viral expressing disappointment about the use of AI in the production of the new film; Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.

With an onslaught of mentions both defending and scorning the use of AI for the film, we can use this conversation to understand in what context AI is supported or criticized. 

A counter-argument saw many fans defending the use of AI in the film, which they believe was done in an ethical way. Fans claimed that because the AI was learning from human-created illustrations by the film’s artists, this was an ethical use of AI.

When analyzing online mentions, it seems that consumers have a tendency to automatically dismiss the use of artificial intelligence in creative processes. However, the assumption that AI is used to replace the human touch to animation doesn’t always hold up. For example, for Spider-Man’s production, the use of AI was to minimize mundane tasks. The team “used machine learning algorithms to develop a distinctive animation style for Across the Spider-Verse, giving the movie a standout appearance.” This process gave the team more control over the movie’s aesthetic.

Many argue that this is an ethical and acceptable use of AI.

So, what makes AI usage for business ethical?

AI is no doubt a revolutionary tool. It offers plenty of opportunities for brands to improve output, implement automation, and focus on growth. 

According to Forbes, 64% of businesses expect AI to increase productivity. By automating basic tasks, time can be spent elsewhere.

Yet, some brands might hold off implementing AI for fear of consumer response, especially when sentiment around the ethics of AI is largely negative.

Using AI for menial tasks – such as for automation – is generally accepted and, in many cases, praised. Yet, using it to substitute human creativity is where consumers draw the line.

Brands should scrutinize the AI they use in-house and ensure it’s utilized for the right reasons. For example, if you’re using AI for artistic purposes, does the AI model you use infringe on other artists’ work?

Using AI the right way

The ethics of utilizing AI in business isn’t black and white. It’s up to brands to ask themselves what they can use AI for and whether they should use AI for these tasks.

A good example of this lies in the film industry, which we’ve also delved into above. Filmmakers could probably train artificial intelligence to write pretty good scripts and generate pretty good illustrations. But do we really want to outsource these critical roles to computers? Or, should we instead train computers to do the mundane, repetitive tasks so more time is freed up for humans to be creative?

Plus, setting boundaries on how you use AI is vital to avoid crossing the line of what consumers deem acceptable.So the question brands should ask themselves is this: what do we want AI to do, and what do we want to continue doing ourselves?

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