In an era of purpose-driven consumption, values—such as transparency, trust and humanness—are key drivers that unlock value in AI, new research from WP Engine finds. The firm’s latest study, conducted by researchers at The University of London and Vanson Bourne, explores the present and near future of AI-driven human digital experiences on the web, and the often tenuous but also potentially rewarding relationship between consumers, brands and AI.

AI growth & the Internet

According to IDC, worldwide spending on AI systems is forecast to reach $35.8 billion in 2019, an increase of 44 percent over the amount spent in 2018. Much of that growth will come from the application of AI online because there is a natural, evolutionary symbiosis between AI and the internet.

However, it was a sudden burst of activity starting in 2013 that marks the beginning of what we might term the modern AI period, especially for digital and digital experiences, characterized predominantly by automated content creation, programmatic ad buying in 2014, and intelligent search. With these advances in AI, it became a method of leveraging technology to improve the customer journey and providing real impact to organizational bottom lines.

The kinder, gentler web—AI’s potential to usher in civility

“The degree of long-term benefits AI will bring to an enterprise’s digital initiatives is deeply linked with the importance of aligning brand values with a core set of ethical decision-making values,” said Fabio Torlini, managing director for EMEA at WP Engine, in a news release. The brands who successfully integrate the revenue-driving power of AI with the trust, safety, and values customers expect will be successful in creating winning, powerful digital experiences.”

This study explores the possibility of AI on the web—suggesting how it will truly benefit the world when it is grounded in values rather than simply in topline business benefits.

The values of AI

Despite the past year’s focus on GDPR and privacy regulations designed to give consumers power over their data, nearly half of UK consumers (48 percent according to a survey by CIM) still don’t know how brands are using their data. They remain concerned about the privacy of their personal information and online behaviors. As consumers demand that enterprises prioritize their data protection and become transparent regarding its use, collection and value, most enterprises have started having these necessary conversations regarding the role of ethics, data protection and consumer rights.

The kinder, gentler web—AI’s potential to usher in civility

Personalization systems tend to give way to trust and ethical concerns, both from a privacy perspective and in terms of cross-device efficiencies. In the UK, both consumers and enterprises indicated a high degree of importance regarding values issues, such as the protection of data privacy and security, the expectation of organizations being able to explain transparently what they are using data for, degree of personalization, and a clear and direct value for the exchange of data, to name a few

Consumers overall placed more importance on these issues, putting enterprises on notice. Most important to UK consumers was that proper privacy protections are in place during personalization (92.2 percent net agreed) and yet only 82 percent of enterprises indicated this was important, indicating a serious gap that needs to be bridged for enterprises to truly gain UK consumer trust.

The kinder, gentler web—AI’s potential to usher in civility

“Our research shows enterprises investing in AI are already seeing astounding return on investment and performance outcomes,” said Dr. Chris Brauer, Director of Innovation at Goldsmiths, University of London, in the release. “Consumers are demanding that innovating with AI in digital experiences clearly prioritizes and expresses values around privacy, trust, and transparency. Only by laying a solid foundation of ethics and values that guide the implementation of all facets of an AI solution, will companies truly be able to fully harness the value of AI.”

Creepy or cool?

An increasing number of digital users are now mindful and aware of the “value exchange” that occurs with a brand when they participate in a digital experience. Not surprisingly, the willingness to share personal information in exchange for a better service was highest among millennials with older generations less willing to trade their personal information for better, more personalized service.

Data sharing leads to personalized services and in this AI is extremely capable, such as being able to push an ice cream advertisement to you while walking past an ice cream shop on a hot day. Still, consumers worry that this not border into the obtrusive—86.8 percent of UK consumers felt it was important that personalization doesn’t feel ‘creepy.’ And in response, 77 percent of UK enterprises agreed that avoiding creepiness was crucial. Ultimately organizations need to walk the fine line where a person’s digital space must be respected in the same way as physical space.

The kinder, gentler web—AI’s potential to usher in civility

Lessons for the AI Age

The research resulted in several lessons for brands and agencies using AI in the digital age:

Open your algorithms

Enterprises are increasingly using AI-driven platforms to make impactful decisions, such as the allocation of jobs, loans, or university admissions. Thus, there is a rising concern from users on how algorithms make these decisions, as 92.7 percent of UK consumers feel it is very important for organizations to be transparent about how their data is being used for creating personalized online experiences. Keeping this in mind, organizations have identified the need to incorporate the values of AI, primarily trust and transparency, in their strategies. And 41.5 percent of UK IT decision-makers say that it is very important to be transparent about how they use AI to personalize user experience.

Beware bias

81.5 percent of UK IT decision-makers agreed that it is important to interrogate bias in their organizations and the data sets they use. It is particularly relevant for supervised learning and machine learning data sets where the process of supervision allows brands to change the way they do things. This provides an opportunity to create diverse and inclusive teams to maintain various voices of change. 79.5 percent of IT decision-makers agree that it is important that the teams building and maintaining AI systems are diverse.

Use only what you need

With GDPR, the world began to see governments putting structure around what and how data may be used. The report shows that 86 percent of consumers do not want organizations tracking data that they don’t have any use for and 92.8 percent of UK consumers said that they expect organizations to explain what they are doing with their data.

Be customer inspired

Thanks to advancements in natural language processing and conversation AI, the capability now exists for chatbots and digital assistants to closely mimic their human counterparts. In fact, 56.4 percent of consumers surveyed indicated it’s important that websites have a chatbot or digital assistant to help with customer service, and 82 percent of enterprises are using AI in this way. However, 85 percent of consumers surveyed agreed that it should be made known when AI is used in chatbots and similar customer-facing applications. 85 percent of UK consumers strongly agreed that companies have a responsibility to disclose the use of AI in chatbots and similar customer service interactions. And 77 percent of IT decision-makers also agreed that when it comes to deploying customer service chatbots, it should be made known to users that such a service is not facilitated by human agents, demonstrating alignment between enterprises and consumers about the importance of this issue.

Find out more and download the full report here.

The study surveyed consumers and enterprise companies (1,000 employees or more) in the U.S., UK and Australia.

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Richard Carufel

Richard Carufel

Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 12 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richardc@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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