Artificial intelligence (AI), now found in everyday products such as smart watches and cloud-based virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri, continues to transform the economy and our daily life. While advances in computer processing, algorithms, and access to technology have all allowed AI to disrupt a variety of industries, few have looked at the ethical implications of this recent transformation. Although privacy is one of the most frequently mentioned ethical challenges related to AI, programming biases, cybersecurity, displacement of workers due to automation, and stakeholder wellbeing are also emerging as major concerns. Shuili Du, associate professor of marketing at Paul College, along with colleague Chunyan Xie, professor of marketing at Western Norway University of Applied Sciences, explore the intersection of AI and ethics in their article, Paradoxes of Artificial Intelligence in Consumer Markets: Ethical Challenges and Opportunities, published in The Journal of Business Research in 2020.
This paper is the outcome of a broader research project, Corporate Social Responsibility in the Age of AI: Challenges and Opportunities, for which Du received the Fulbright Distinguished Chair award from the U.S. State Department, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in 2019-2020.
“AI is sweeping every aspect of our lives, both as consumers and in business. We haven’t talked that much about the ethical and social implications of AI,” Du says. “There are great challenges and opportunities for businesses as they use AI technologies properly to cultivate competitive advantage.”
In their paper, Du and Xie first classify consumer-facing AI products according to their levels of interaction, multifunctionality, and AI intelligence. According to the study, different types of AI products implicate different ethical challenges. While products with higher multifunctionality (smart watches, for example) seem to better mitigate AI biases, they also draw from muchwider data sets and sources to train and fine tune their algorithms—and therefore have higher privacy concerns. AI-enabled products that exhibit both high interactivity and high intelligence— for example, personal digital assistants like Siri, or a robot nurse in a health care setting—face ethical issues related to privacy, cybersecurity, and autonomy.
“Furthermore, multi-functional AI products (such as the digital assistant, Alexa) might lead to consumers’ overreliance and excessive product usage, creating issues such as consumer addiction and potentially exerting a negative effect on consumer welfare,” the study finds.
Du’s research specifically reviews corporate AI challenges and opportunities at the product, consumer, and societal levels. For example, at the product level, companies could improve their corporate social responsibility by offering greater transparency related to their AI training data and algorithms; while at the consumer level they might offer benefits to consumers for sharing their data and, in turn, give them more control over data collection and data usage. Finally, at the societal level, companies ought to raise awareness of digital addiction and provide reskilling and learning opportunities to employees whose jobs might be lost due to automation, Du says.
The goal of the study is to raise awareness and change the way the field looks at the power balance between businesses and their customers when it comes to using big data and machine learning to drive product innovation and loyalty. Future research – such as how to eliminate AI biases and what are responsible data practices that preserve individuals’ privacy—are other pieces of the puzzle that will shape the future of companies’ CSR strategies, Du says.
“I believe our research will kickstart the conversation on socially responsible AI and influence how companies think about developing and deploying AI, particularly with regard to addressing ethical and societal issues,” Du says.
RECENT SELECTED PUBLICATIONS
Du, S., & Xie, C. (2021). Paradoxes of Artificial Intelligence in Consumer Market: Ethical Challenges and Opportunities. Journal of Business Research.
Baskentli, S., Sen, S. Du, S., & Bhattacharya, C.B. (2019). Consumer Reactions to Corporate Social Responsibility: The Role of CSR Domains. Journal of Business Research, 95.
Du, S., Yu, K., Bhattacharya, C.B. & Sen, S. (2017). The Business Case for Sustainability Reporting: Evidence from Stock Market Reactions. Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, 36(2).