Artificial intelligence (AI) promises exciting opportunities for marketing leaders to gain predictive insights, personalise customer experiences, and operate more efficiently. However, as AI permeates marketing organisations, ethical risks emerge. Models can discriminate against protected groups. Biased data can lead to flawed outputs. Lack of transparency can erode customer trust.
As AI governance comes into focus with regulations like the EU's AI Act, marketing leaders must take tangible steps to deploy AI ethically and responsibly. This guide provides practical actions leaders can take across their organisations—from conducting bias testing to fostering an ethical culture—to ensure AI aligns with their values.
By taking proactive measures guided by ethical principles, CMOs, directors, and CEOs can harness AI to create value for customers and society while building trust in their brands. They can become stewards of responsible innovation who set the tone for others to follow. The opportunity is great for leaders ready to act.
Conduct Bias Testing
Testing AI systems for biases against protected groups is crucial for ensuring fair outcomes. Machine learning models can inadvertently discriminate without intentional bias checks, reflecting historical biases in data.
While definitions of fairness vary across contexts, techniques like unfairness testing, counterfactual fairness, and subgroup validity can uncover biases. Data science teams should schedule recurring bias testing before models are deployed and continuously monitor for fairness once in production.
Audit partnerships with outside experts can also help uncover blindspots. Testing early and often is key—it is much easier to make adjustments during development than after launch. Neglecting regular bias checks creates legal, ethical, and brand risks.
Appoint a leader to institute bias testing processes across projects, set quantitative fairness thresholds, and invest in auditing tools. Make assessments before launch and ongoing monitoring mandatory. Factoring ethics in from the start prevents painful rework later on.
Implement Processes for Model Monitoring
Bias testing cannot be a one-and-done activity. Models must be continuously monitored once deployed to ensure fairness and performance do not deteriorate over time. Data drift and changes in the real world can render models ineffective or discriminatory.
Rigorous monitoring processes are needed to track key indicators like accuracy, fairness, explainability, and downstream impacts of AI systems. Data science teams should monitor closely at launch. Still, a cross-functional team, including product managers and ethics leads, should devise ongoing monitoring and decide on actions if red flags arise.
Executives should require explainability and auditability for AI systems to enable accountable monitoring. Leaders must be ready to pause models or conduct overhauls if harms emerge post-launch. Regular external auditing provides an outside perspective. The EU AI Act mandates risk-based monitoring - act now to build robust processes.
Transparency builds trust. Marketing leaders should communicate when and how AI is applied internally and to customers. Avoid opaque "black box" approaches at all costs.
Explain the high-level logic behind algorithms so stakeholders understand how decisions are made. Technical details on model internals can remain protected IP but be able to articulate how inputs relate to outputs. Interactive model explainers and demos help increase intelligibility for stakeholders.
Set expectations with model users on factors influencing outputs—document processes so AI systems can be audited. Organisations can strengthen relationships by proactively addressing transparency concerns and communicating AI practices and limitations.
Foster an Ethical Culture
Technical tools alone cannot ensure the ethical application of AI - people and processes are critical. Marketing leaders should foster an ethical culture where responsibility is baked into all levels.
Provide AI ethics training across the organisation, not just to technical teams. Bring in outside experts to educate on potential harms. Create forums for raising concerns without retribution. Reward behaviour demonstrating ethics in action.
Leaders must role model accountability themselves. Empower ethics advisory boards and bias bounty programs where concerns can be voiced safely. Document processes thoroughly to enable auditing.
By embedding ethical thinking into organisational culture, employees will apply ethics intrinsically, avoiding blind spots. Meet accountability requirements in regulations like the EU AI Act.
Perform Impact Assessments
Before any AI deployment, rigorously assess potential impacts on customers, employees, and other stakeholders. Exploring broader societal implications beyond business metrics uncovers risks.
Cross-functional teams, including ethicists, should evaluate intended use, data sources, and model design—probe for possible harms like discrimination, loss of autonomy, or poor usability. Consult representatives from impacted groups.
Identify and weigh the pros and cons of using AI versus other options. Set quantitative thresholds for harms and monitor closely after launch. Iteratively assess impacts as changes are made.
While impact assessments incur early costs, they prevent costly damage control post-launch. Take responsibility before unintended consequences emerge.
Ethics should be considered starting in the design phase, not just applied after the fact. Develop model requirements that align with ethical values like fairness, accountability, transparency, and human agency.
Empower cross-functional teams to raise ethical considerations early in projects. Enlist ethicists and human-centred design experts to help identify issues upfront. Test and refine alternative design options.
Document how ethical principles are upheld, from data sourcing to monitoring production systems. Building in ethics from the start leads to more holistic solutions that benefit all.
Control Model Inputs
"Garbage in, garbage out."
Rigorously control model inputs to avoid ingesting biases that lead to problematic outputs. Document data provenance and perform extensive vetting.
Scrutinise training data for imbalanced classes, under-representation, and proxy variables that could introduce bias. Clean dirty data through techniques like reweighting. Seek diverse data sources that better reflect populations.
Continuously monitor incoming data as distributions inevitably drift over time. Data used for AI demands the same governance as the algorithms themselves.
Extensive documentation provides transparency into data practices, model development, monitoring, and more. It enables internal governance and external auditing of AI systems.
In addition to documenting model internals, maintain detailed records on the entire machine learning lifecycle—Standardise documentation processes across projects—store records centrally for easy access.
Documentation demonstrates accountability. It is not a luxury but a prerequisite for ethically developing, deploying and monitoring AI. Enable audits at any time.
The Way Forward
Marketing leaders must deploy AI ethically as it permeates their organisations. Consumers grant brands immense power over experiences, recommendations, and opportunities. AI risks betraying that trust without proactive measures for responsibility.
This guide outlines tangible steps leaders can take to align AI with their values. From assessing impacts to controlling data, creating accountability processes now prevents problems later. While challenges remain, marketing professionals committed to progress can lead the way.
Regulations will continue evolving to address AI's societal impacts. But thoughtful leaders need not wait for government mandates to act. By taking the initiative to implement ethical AI practices, marketing teams can build consumer trust, create value for their companies, and demonstrate moral leadership.
The marketing function sits at the frontier of AI adoption. Setting ethical standards today lays the foundation for responsible innovation across all of the business for tomorrow. The opportunity is yours. Lead wisely.
August 7, 2023