Artificial intelligence (AI) has become a popular topic of conversation among development professionals, entrepreneurs, and consumers alike. There’s definitely some cause for excitement, as it has real potential to boost efficiency in the development and maintenance of your eCommerce platforms. Yet, it’s vital to take a step back for a moment.
Alongside its practical benefits, there are some serious ethical questions surrounding the use of AI in eCommerce. Whether it’s being used to interact directly with customers or to support DevOps processes, you must make choices that are in line with high moral operating standards.
Let’s explore the idea of ethical AI usage in eCommerce a little further.
Establish Clear Ethical Boundaries
AI is definitely a fascinating prospect for web development and infrastructure in eCommerce. The benefits are many — for example, automation and AI have been instrumental in reducing human error in the workplace. However, you need to recognize that there are specific ethical risks associated with AI implementation as well. Biases in programming might lead to inadvertent discrimination and algorithms may spread misinformation that influences people’s decision-making. That’s to say nothing of the concerns related to job displacement or privacy. Before wading into a project, you must start establishing some guidelines for how you plan to use AI and set boundaries that you’re unwilling to cross.
Ethical standards are likely to be subtly different from business to business. Nevertheless, a couple of the areas you should consider around your eCommerce transformation include:
For eCommerce web transformation, one area AI holds great potential is enhanced customer personalization. Nevertheless, this requires the collection, storage, analysis, and use of customers’ private data. One ethical boundary to set is ensuring that this doesn’t occur without express and informed consent.
This isn’t just about gaining general consent to use data. You have to give consumers clarity on what is collected, how it’s used, and what security measures are in place. Having this boundary in place during development means you can act appropriately every time gaining new sources of data is essential. As a result, you’re better able to optimize consumer experiences with AI while respecting individuals’ data ownership.
One big issue with AI is the presence of a “black box” around how the software is programmed and used. The less clarity you have on how AI does what it does, the less you’re able to confirm it’s being used ethically.
Therefore, it’s wise to set boundaries that minimize engagement with AI that lacks transparency. Designers and developers should have full visibility over the programming of the AI systems being used, which both mitigates the potential for bias and boosts accountability.
Be Mindful of the Limitations
AI is undoubtedly a powerful technology that you can utilize for your eCommerce in multiple areas. However, it’s important to recognize that it has its limitations. Why is this an ethical issue? Well, without a good understanding of the limitations, you may run the risk of using tools incorrectly. The resulting failures may put consumers and colleagues in positions of vulnerability or inconvenience.
Some limitations in eCommerce AI use include:
Security is a priority for any eCommerce company. To some extent, AI can make online interactions safer, by boosting the speed and efficacy of cybersecurity. This is because machine learning (ML) algorithms can help the AI software detect patterns that are consistent with suspicious activity or make predictions related to areas of vulnerability.
Nevertheless, there are limitations to its use. Cybercriminals are exploiting the same types of software to design attacks that might be sophisticated enough to circumvent AI tools. AI may also not always safeguard against the slightly reckless decisions humans can make during social engineering attacks. Therefore, the ethical use of AI cybersecurity recognizes these limitations and uses other tools and protocols to fill these gaps.
Building AI-driven chatbots into your eCommerce apps can offer great front-line customer communications, freeing up valuable time and human resources. They’re also becoming more sophisticated all the time. That said, knowing that they’re not perfect helps you avoid ethical missteps.
Firstly, they’re not capable of truly empathetic interactions with customers. Therefore, you can’t use them for conversations where emotional sensitivity is required. Indeed, leading customers to believe they’re talking to a human on this level rather than a chatbot is in itself ethically questionable. In addition, they can have issues with accuracy on complex matters and AI is even known to spread false information. As a result, they shouldn’t be used for communication on areas of high credibility, such as safety, finances, or health-related products. This is just the tip of the limitation iceberg, though, so your team needs to perform a deep dive here before engaging.
Probably the most significant ethical quandary at the moment in respect to AI is the potential to displace human workers. It would certainly raise eyebrows if eCommerce business owners or dev teams started replacing contributors to the company with AI systems.
The good news is that — at the moment — there are very few roles that AI could practically usurp. Nevertheless, it remains a point of ethical consideration to keep humans central to all processes, even in areas where AI platforms are present. This helps to ensure human workers apply their expertise to establish and maintain high ethical standards. At the very least it preserves the human touch on your website, on your mobile apps, and in your organization.
AI is a great tool. But that’s all it is. Ensure that in all areas of development, AI platforms play a support role to the people with a more nuanced ethical understanding.
There is enormous potential for AI to boost the development and running of your eCommerce platforms. However, it’s important to be driven by strong ethical standards. Understand the moral challenges of AI so you can set solid boundaries around your activities. Maintaining an awareness of the limitations of AI also prevents you from using it in ineffective and risky ways. Above all else, put the invaluable human contributors to your business first in all your AI explorations. You may make a few missteps along the way, but by holding your business and teams to solid ethical guidelines, you can make AI a useful tool in your eCommerce success story.
Beau Peters is a creative professional with a lifetime of experience in service and care. As a manager, he’s learned a slew of tricks of the trade that he enjoys sharing with others who have the same passion and dedication that he brings to his work. When he is not writing, he enjoys reading and trying new things.