What The Universal Guidelines For AI Mean for Marketers

Recently, the Universal Guidelines for AI (UGAI) were endorsed by 170 experts and 40 non-governmental organizations representing 30 countries, an important step in acknowledging the potentially negative consequences use of AI technology can cause. 

The guidelines include a set of principles that developers and users of AI must consider in order to avoid the violation of human rights: rights to transparency and human determination; obligations of identification, fairness, accountability, validity, quality, public safety, cybersecurity, and termination; and prohibitions on secret profiling and unitary scoring.

You might be excusing yourself from reading the UGAI, given you harbor no ill will toward humanity.  However, it’s worth remembering that privacy violations and breaches in recent months (such as Cambridge Analytica, Uber, Google, etc.) were not the result of evil intent, but rather thoughtlessness that had unintended consequences.  So it might be worth considering the agreed-upon principles.

The late media theorist Neil Postman once said, “our enthusiasm for technology can turn into a form of idolatry and our belief in its beneficence can  be a false absolute.”  In a prescient pre-2000 speech, Postman went on to point out that there are always tradeoffs with technological change, calling it a Faustian bargain: “Technology giveth and technology taketh away.” He believed “the greater the wonders of a technology, the greater will be its negative consequences.”  

Personally, I am excited about what AI will contribute to marketing and the user experience, as most of my previous MediaPost articles will attest.  As an investor, I will surely participate in furthering the advancement of marketing capabilities through AI technologies.  

But I also know to be cautious.  I am tuned in to the “wonders of AI” and am therefore hyper-conscious of the risks they may pose.  

Of all the principles, marketers should probably focus the most on Principle 1: the Transparency Principle.  Europe’s GDPR has raised the stakes for noncompliance, covered last year in an article by Mike Azzara.  Most marketers, agencies and media businesses are applying the GDPR transparency requirements to U.S. practices in anticipation of similar domestic regulations.  Marketers must make clear to users when their data is being used to deliver advertising messages.  

GDPR also covers Principle 7, the Data Quality Obligation: “Institutions must establish data provenance, and assure quality and relevance for the data input into algorithms.”  This involves your own company’s practices as well as its partners.  

Even marketers with the best intentions may trip on these principles without the right technologies to provide notification on compliance issues. Doing diligence on data compliance will likely be a big focus of any marketer’s job.

Principle 4, the Fairness Obligation, is a standard that marketers may struggle to meet. This requires institutions to “ensure that AI systems do not reflect unfair bias or make impermissible discriminatory decisions.”  

Facebook and Google have both been under fire for allowing campaigns and search results to discriminate against gender and race.  Marketing programs by their very nature are exclusionary, since they are designed to target those who are most likely to be profitable customers. However, it is wrong to withhold access to products and services from entire classes of the population.  This will require a conscious approach by marketers to make sure the bias of their algorithms is not discriminatory.

Principle 9, the Cybersecurity Obligation, which states that “institutions must secure AI systems against cybersecurity threats,” may not feel like part of a marketer’s job description.  Increasingly though, marketers should be aware of their company’s cybersecurity strategies. 

Last year, I wrote an article about the damaging impact to brands after a breach -- and there have been a number of high profile hacks since it ran.  As 51% of Fortune 500 companies are attacked hourly, you can be pretty sure your company is a target.  It is worth knowing how your technology department is fighting the cyber war, and you may sleep a little better knowing your customers’ data is safe. So will they.   

We are in a new era, and AI will be playing a major role in marketing careers.  No one has it all figured out.  No matter which position you hold or where you rank, consider yourself part of your company’s conscience.  The UGAI can help in promoting the right behavior when putting AI to work.

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