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August, 2023

Is it time to regulate AI in marketing?

Written by Andrew Thornton, AMI Chair.

I recently read an article in an Asian business magazine where the author opened with the gambit: ‘there’s no such thing as AI…yet’. The author went on the explain that most ‘AI’ is no more than sophisticated (but evolving) machine learning. True AI (where the technology thinks for itself) is not here yet, but not far away.

The key point being that AI continues to rapidly evolve and we (humanity) need to understand the implications and consequences of this.

The market for artificial intelligence in marketing was estimated at 15.84 billion U.S. dollars in 2021. Now, the value is expected to increase to more than 107.5 billion dollars by 2028.

Whilst I am no AI expert, as a professional marketer, I am aware of the significant impact that AI is having on marketing in Australia (and globally) and will continue to have. So much so that the term ‘AI Marketing’ has been spawned.

To be clear, AI Marketing uses the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to transform and enhance marketing functions like customer engagement, optimising search results, data collection, data analysis and a lot more. On one hand, AI marketing tools can analyse massive amounts of data, identify patterns, and predict future trends accurately. On the other, it is being deployed to write copy, create images (including ‘human’ images) and to devise ads.

I recently spoke with a number of marketing colleagues who, whilst welcoming the positive impacts of AI on marketing, expressed concerns about the risks associated with AI marketing. In short, there are a few ethical concerns around privacy, bias, transparency, manipulation, and job displacement. In addition, intellectual property rights and data privacy.

The key question then: ‘is it time the industry looked at a specific set of regulations around AI Marketing?’

Let me say that regulating a rapidly evolving capability, such as AI, is tricky. Today’s regulation may not be applicable tomorrow. Perhaps that is why the Australian Federal Government has opted to introduce some light touch regulations.

In addition to general and sector-specific regulations, regulation of AI in Australia is in the form of voluntary guiding principles, which are designed to guide businesses and government to responsibly ‘design, develop and implement’ AI solutions. Australia’s Artificial Intelligence Ethics Framework was introduced by the Federal Government on 7 November 2019 and is consistent with the OECD’s Recommendation of the Council of Artificial Intelligence, which includes principles for the responsible stewardship of trustworthy AI. This voluntary code is intended to complement legislation and set out a ‘best practice’ approach for the design, development and implementation of AI.

But as AI Marketing progresses, should we be asking ourselves the critical questions regarding regulation? In particular:

1.  Is AI Marketing specific regulation necessary?

2.   What is the risk of regulating a rapidly changing technology? What is the risk if we don’t regulate?

3.   What are the potential unintended consequences of not regulating?

Whilst I do have some thoughts around these questions, I’d appreciate hearing your perspective on whether regulation of AI Marketing is needed or not. Contact me via the AMI email address.

Andrew Thornton
AMI Chair