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Artificial Intelligence Data Deep Dive Data & Privacy

If we want a positive AI revolution, there’s no room for bad data

By Chad Engelgau, Chief executive officer and President



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May 15, 2023 | 8 min read

For The Drum’s data deep dive, Acxiom’s Chad Engelgau argues that the direction of the coming AI revolution is still up to us – and the data practices we embed now.

A city, reflected upside-down in a lens held by a hand

The AI future is in the hands of today's data practitioners, says Acxiom’s Chad Engelgau / Octavian Rosca via Unsplash

Imagine a world where AI-powered advertising recognizes you and personalizes content based on your location, purchases, interests and even your mood. And what if virtual assistants shared aspects of your life, then brands responded to your needs?

But before we get carried away with the transformative potential of AI, let’s get real. In the age of AI, there’s no room for bad data; data is the lifeblood of AI. To move forward, we must look back to a 1950s computing adage: Gigo (garbage in, garbage out).

AI systems rely on massive amounts of data to learn and refine their outputs. But data is a constantly evolving asset. Consumer data changes rapidly, by 20%+ per year. Outdated or incomplete data can lead to faulty AI insights, resulting in poor decision-making and negative consequences for people and businesses. To rise above these challenges, brands and marketers must embrace the revolutionary rules of data: keep it clean, keep it ethical and keep it human.

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Back to basics

Laying a solid foundation with current, accurate, permissions, and secure data is essential for AI success. While these fundamentals might lack glamor, they’re indispensable in preserving the accuracy and reliability of AI systems. As our reliance on AI grows, the integrity of the underlying data becomes increasingly critical. Failing to prioritize data hygiene and compliance could leave businesses vulnerable to substantial risks and numerous setbacks.

AI certainly amplifies data’s promise. It enables businesses to quickly analyze customer behavior, recognize trends, and make data-driven decisions, across marketing and multiple business activities. The result? More engaging, seamless customer experiences and improved efficiencies, ROI and reduced costs. AI can even help tackle pressing societal issues like improving healthcare outcomes, predicting natural disasters, and battling climate change.

The promise is there, but we must proceed with caution.

Because AI also amplifies data's inherent risks and challenges. AI’s ability to enhance efficiency and productivity ushers in new dependencies and susceptibilities, testing our autonomy and accountability. AI may unintentionally perpetuate existing biases in data. And data usage consent, transparency, and security, which should always be a top priority for brands, will become increasingly significant as people demand a greater understanding of why ‘the machine’ made its decision the way it did.

Personalization and privacy

Balancing personalization with privacy is a delicate act. Acxiom's own research reveals that 70% of people expect a customized experience and desire a direct, mutually beneficial relationship with brands they trust. Our research also found people are open to sharing data when they believe there is a value exchange.

However, brands must avoid crossing into the invasive territory. To accomplish this, marketers should carefully consider the data input for AI models that drive consumer interactions as well as its outputs. By collecting and utilizing only the most essential information, they can deliver tailored experiences without overstepping personal boundaries. Trusting yet verifying the outputs are good is even more important.

Using AI (and data) for good

So, how can we harness the power of AI for good? It’s crucial to remember that AI transcends being a mere tool or technology; it represents a new approach to leveraging data assets. New AI systems don’t just follow predefined rules or logic to produce predictable outcomes. Instead, they learn from data, identifying patterns, generating insights and making recommendations that might not have been anticipated or understood.

Left unchecked, AI systems can also produce biased or inaccurate results and can potentially compromise privacy or governance rules, inflicting harm or damaging your brand. These shortcomings can result in legal or reputational risks, particularly for regulated industries.

Brands and marketers want to trust the recommendations and decisions AI can provide, but it's essential to validate the sources and methodologies underpinning these insights. This is where humans play a vital role in shaping the data behind AI. Humans bring creativity, empathy, and critical thinking to the table – qualities AI has yet to master. People select the data used to train algorithms and define the desired outcomes they want AI to achieve. Striking the right balance between humanity and AI-driven insights is key to driving innovation and minimizing AI-related risks.

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AI should serve the greater good, moving business and people forward together. Remove the human element, and we’re left with a soulless machine that could cause more harm than good. It’s imperative to keep data clean and maintain transparency in how it is collected, stored, and used. Implementing data privacy and governance measures and addressing biases by actively examining and mitigating potential discrimination in analysis and decision-making processes is key. By embracing the new rules of data and nurturing harmony between AI and humans, we can create a smarter, more efficient, and better-connected world.

A future where AI complements our strengths and works hand in hand with us, elevating our potential and paving the way for a brighter tomorrow. Without this type of revolution, we might experience one none of us want.

For more data, privacy, tracking and regulation, check out our deep dive hub.

Artificial Intelligence Data Deep Dive Data & Privacy

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Acxiom® is the global leader in customer intelligence and stands at the forefront of AI-enabled, data-driven marketing. As part of the Interpublic Group of Companies,...

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