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IBM Watson to explore how AI can mitigate advertising bias

The research aims to understand factors of bias in advertising and how AI can help in creating better messaging, and improving campaign impact.

The advertising industry is undergoing a major transformation, with changes to privacy regulations and increased demand for transparency. This has fueled the emergence of AI as the industry’s new technology backbone, so much so that IBM Watson Advertising has decided to conduct research that will apply its open-source AI technology.

The initiative is aimed to better understand how prevalent unwanted bias is in advertising, while simultaneously laying the foundation for its potential mitigation. “The work aligns with IBM Watson Advertising’s overarching mission to make AI the catalyst for improving solutions, services and trust in the advertising ecosystem,” the company said in a press release.

The advertising industry is undergoing a major transformation, with changes to privacy regulations and increased demand for transparency fueling the emergence of AI as the industry’s new technology backbone. As brands rebuild amidst this transformation, the timing is ideal to address the persistent problem of unwanted bias in advertising. A study conducted by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media found that male characters appeared in advertisements 12% more than females even though women-led and gender-balanced videos yielded 30% more views than other videos, revealing demand for more inclusive content.

“We find ourselves at a moment in history where a discourse on socioeconomic inequalities is dominating the national agenda and compelling action,” said Bob Lord, Senior Vice President, Worldwide Ecosystems at IBM. “Our hope is that AI can be the catalyst for reducing unwanted bias in advertising,” he added.

Unwanted bias in advertising has the potential to negatively impact consumers who may miss out on an economic opportunity or feel targeted based on stereotypes, while also negatively impacting brands that may experience poor campaign performance. “The aim of the IBM Watson Advertising research is to drive a deeper understanding of the factors leading to unwanted bias in advertising and how AI can help in spanning audience segmentation, creative messaging, performance optimisation, and campaign impact,” the company stated.

Armed with this information, marketers and IT vendors may be able to develop a roadmap for the responsible use of AI to reduce unwanted bias to create and execute campaigns effectively.

According to the company, IBM Watson Advertising will work with researchers from IBM Research to conduct this study in partnership with the Ad Council and potentially other leaders across the industry. “Collective bias has been prevalent in our industry for far too long, and the need to study its origins and impact is critical so that we can effectively work together to create progress,” said Lisa Sherman, President, and CEO at the Ad Council.

IBM also revealed that data from the Ad Council’s “It’s Up to You” COVID-19 Vaccine Education initiative will be used for this initial research phase. The AI Fairness 360 toolkit will be used to examine the data and determine whether there are ways AI can be useful to help mitigate discrimination and bias.

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