The Ethics of AI for Marketing

Lately, the intersection of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Ethics, and Marketing has been pretty busy. There is so much happening so fast, it’s almost frightening. As marketers and business owners, it can’t hurt to slow down and really look at the ethics of AI for marketing. Then you can make informed choices that are best for your business or career.

First, we must ask: what is AI and why do we care?

The idea of AI was birthed in the mind of one forward-thinking individual in the 1950s. Since then, Hollywood has been fascinated with the idea of AI destroying the world, from the 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey (the timing was a little off maybe) to the most recent Matrix movie in 2021 (and many more). It seems we have this love/hate relationship with AI. On the one hand, we created it because we think it will help us, but on the other hand, we are afraid it will harm us.

Let’s step away from the apocalypse for a moment and clarify what AI actually is. AI uses statistical models to identify patterns in data. It “learns” because more data inputs produce a more precise output. AI is used to power Alexa, Siri, facial recognition, self-driven cars, spellcheck, autocorrect, search engines, customer service chatbots, and the list goes on. Most people interact with AI every day. We even used AI to write this article (grammar/spell check, search engines, SEO, and readability checks).

Here is where AI gets a bit scarier; current technology is at a point where AI can replace (or enhance?) human creativity. OpenAI, a company backed by Microsoft, Elon Musk, and a few others, recently announced its plans to launch a paid version of its AI writing technology called ChatGPT. OpenAI uses data from the web to generate text of any length based on a writing prompt. Due to this vast data set, ChatGPT’s output is often hardly distinguishable from a human’s. It can be used as a translator, programmer, or poet. You can instruct it to copy a famous author (creepy), or write screenplays, novels, newspaper articles, and ad copy. Plus you can use it to generate plot or content ideas. New applications are being added at breakneck speed.

So how can AI be used for Marketing?

AI in general can synthesize large data points, such as customer interactions or behavior online, to help marketers create better strategies. Some developers state that AI can generate real-time personalization. This delivers customized content in response to a user’s actions.

More specifically, the ChatGPT type of technology can potentially be a useful tool for marketers as well. According to The Atlantic, “Businesses are using ChatGPT to create copy for their websites and promotional materials and to respond to customer-service inquiries.”

While the benefits seem clear, the use of ChatGPT and other machines for the development of creative output – such as art or writing – raises a whole host of legal questions and ethical issues. You can understand the temptation, for example, for a student to use AI to write their school assignments (teachers, you have been hereby warned).

Time out. Let’s address the elephant in the room.

Can we just pause for a minute and consider whether AI for writing and marketing will replace jobs on a grand scale in the near future?

Here’s our best guess: AI will displace some jobs. If history is any proof (think Industrial Revolution), we can bank on companies replacing humans if they think they can be more efficient.

AI may create new jobs, too. At this point, humans should still be reviewing AI-generated text; sometimes the output doesn’t make sense. So, it’s likely that jobs may become more specialized, where experts will manage the system and correct issues. Will a workforce overhaul happen this year? No. Within 10 years? It’s difficult to say.

This Forbes article is hopeful for writers, too. The author predicts that humans will remain responsible for being human, things like expressing empathy and telling their own story. For example, we have a hard time imagining it ever being culturally acceptable to write a high-profile corporate apology entirely using AI.

Current law about AI

Last we checked, there wasn’t any. Not in the US, at least.  

While AI development is racing forward, the law is ambling along like the fabled tortoise. Current copyright law assumes a human author and has no framework for a machine generating creative work.

However, very recently (in the last 4 months), a programmer filed the first lawsuit against AI. A Microsoft AI model is using open-source code to generate its own proprietary code. The programmer says that charging for the AI-generated code is a violation of license; open-source code is supposed to be free.

Even more recently, Getty Images and several artists have filed suits alleging copyright infringement. AI companies are arguing that they are not committing piracy; rather their tools are using existing content to “emulate a style” and make “transformative” works. The line between fair use, violation of copyright, and exploitation is clearly not clear.  

So until those cases are decided and laws are written, users (and developers) of AI have to self-regulate. 

Ethical questions raised by AI

… for Art

When considering ethics for AI for Marketing, the arts provide a helpful starting point. As proven by the lawsuits, generative AI is on the naughty list for most artists. Here is why: if the AI art is sold or created through a paid app, the original artists (potentially thousands of them per image) do not get credit or compensation for their part in the creative process.

Should we consider this exploitation? The artists certainly think so. The question is: will artists be able to successfully lobby for a tool that identifies source works and delivers micropayments to them? Will they obtain the right to remove their copyrighted images from the data set entirely? Or will they have no say at all?

… for Writing

Creative writing with AI brings up similar issues. If a person generates a blog using AI, the machine is technically using other people’s writing to string together a new set of words. While there are AI tools to search for plagiarism (that should certainly be used), a user could easily make a few edits and publish the new article under their own name. Again, without having to give credit or payment to the creators.

Another ethical concern will probably arise from people concealing the use of AI to generate new content (ahem, students). For example, a company recently created an AI sommelier. Strange. The only ethical approach would be to state that the wine reviews were generated by AI. But then, would anyone really value a wine review created by a computer that does not have a sense of taste? How many other “reviews” and “opinions” will be generated under this misleading pretext?

Here is another gray area: using AI to reply to or generate social media responses. If you conceal the fact that users are interacting with artificial intelligence, that seems to defeat the purpose of building trust and brand loyalty.

Proceed with Caution?

Here’s what we’re not gonna do: pretend new AI technology isn’t changing the way people do life and work. On the other hand, speeding ahead with no situational awareness is also a dangerous approach.

One way to address AI is to maintain policies regarding its ethical use and keep open communication with employees. This can prevent misuse, protect the brand, and position you as “competitive and socially responsible” (source: Deloitte). Despite the lack of government regulation, we are all still responsible for our use of AI. A few “responsible” uses could be using plagiarism checks to avoid copyright violations, declaring AI as a co-author, and finding ways to compensate makers. 

As we consider the ethics of AI for Marketing, let’s keep our eyes on the road. We should continue using our influence to make the world a better place, even as it keeps shifting around us.

Featured Photo by Pavel Danilyuk

Published by Marissa Yi

Marissa (she/her) is a homeschooling mother of two. She is energized by helping people come up with creative solutions to help launch new projects, events, or businesses. When she is not writing or building websites, she loves singing, crafting, and baking pies!

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