As artificial intelligence continues to shape societies and change economies around the world, business leaders need to be aware of the power of the technology and their responsibility for its ethical deployment, implementation and management.

Business leaders understand that AI will give their companies a competitive advantage. Global AI spending is forecast to reach US$79.2 billion in 2022. However, many organisations are not well prepared for the adoption of AI, an example of which is that few organisations have standards and guidelines in place to manage the technology.

LivePerson recently surveyed close to 600 decision-makers in Australian business on the adoption of AI within their organisations, and the systems and processes being put in place to mitigate the potential risks of AI to customers and employees.

Only two in five Australian businesses told us they have AI standards or guidelines in place, calling into question whether business leaders are prepared for the ethical issues that may arise.

The positive impact of AI is unarguable

AI is delivering many positive outcomes for businesses, their customers and employees. Those using it broadly across their business predicting a 12% or A$1,875,000 average increase in revenue over the next 12 months.

A significant number of these businesses say the technology has had a positive impact on customer satisfaction and retention, and employee satisfaction and productivity. AI can automate manual and process-driven tasks, allowing employees to move into higher-value roles and also create new jobs.

However, the powerful outcomes that can be delivered by AI have given rise to new ethical considerations about the technology’s potential impact and ethical risks – and these cannot be ignored.

Top concerns with AI

The top three external concerns for Australian businesses using AI are the potential for the technology to fall into the wrong hands, loss of privacy and unauthorised access to data. Within their organisations, business leaders are concerned about AI leading to negative customer feedback and negative outcomes for particular groups of customers.

Results also indicated concerns with AI having negative impacts including some functions or tasks no longer requiring human labour; however, respondents also predict positive outcomes, such as employees being able to spend more time on other aspects of their roles and new jobs being created.

How businesses should be approaching AI

Business leaders know AI contributes positively to their business operations, customers and employees, and as technology continues to advance, many will adopt it for further use cases within their organisations.

But the key takeaway is this: business leaders need to approach AI with their eyes wide open. This involves looking at proactive measures to ensure ongoing ethical implementation that prevents the aforementioned concerns from becoming reality.

There is no one-size-fits-all ‘ethical’ AI solution, but organisations can start by looking at industry best practices and standards, and defining their beliefs and approaches to AI. On a practical level, this may involve:

  • Internal and external reviews: Using specialised professionals to review the AI and the use of AI systems to ensure they adhere to ethical principles, policies and legislation.
  • Developing best-practice guidelines: Creating accessible, cross-industry best-practice principles that guide developers and AI users on gold standard practices.
  • Conducting risk assessments: Classifying the level of risk associated with the development and/or use of AI.
  • Diversity measures: Involving a diverse group of people in the creation, deployment and management of AI to eliminate the risk of bias.

For more guidance, Australian businesses can look to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s AI principles and CSIRO’s Data61 draft ethics framework. The latter outlines core principles of AI that organisations should adopt, as well as providing a toolkit for ethical AI.

There are two diverging views when it comes to AI. For some, AI is an existential threat, for others it is a transformer of lives. We are at a reckoning point. In order to keep AI adoption moving forward, build trust with consumers and reassure regulators, companies need to become more proactive on AI ethics.