AI washing: how businesses are using and abusing it and the resulting impacts

Artificial Intelligence
Thursday 14 December 2023 
Elsa Benaiche Elsa Benaiche
3 minutes
AI washing: how businesses are using and abusing it and the resulting impacts

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a dynamic and constantly evolving market. It represented 142 billion US dollars1 in 2022 and is expected to reach nearly two trillion1 by 2030.

As this market booms, some businesses are engaging in « AI washing », meaning that they wrongfully declare that they use AI, solely to promote and sell their product or service. AI, which is considered to bring high value-added, but does not have a clear definition, is associated by shoppers with a proof of innovation, modernity, and high performance.

In 2023, over 1000 businesses2 mentioned AI in their quarterly reports, as opposed to just 36 in 2013.

Read how AI washing is being used and abused, and the resulting negative impacts on the credibility of this technology.

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AI washing: uses and impacts

Deceptive declarations of AI use to attract potential investors

Investors are always on the lookout for start-ups using trending technologies.

To persuade them to invest, some businesses are prepared to use « AI » erroneously in their pitches: businesses mentioning this « buzzword » tend to receive between 15% and 50%3 more funding than other technology start-ups. There are 2830 start-ups in Europe in the « AI business » category, whereas only 15803 actually correspond to the description.

AI washing - abusive uses

Some of these businesses are claiming they use AI systems when they are in fact using traditional algorithms. Others present themselves as « AI businesses » when, in reality, they are hiring low-cost labor to do the job. One example of this is the Californian start-up Kaedim4 claiming that they use AI to convert their clients' 2D images into 3D models « in just a few minutes », whereas this conversion is actually performed by human workers…

Increased consumer wariness

Shoppers set great store on the transparency and reliability of businesses and 60% of them5 believe that this is the most important element for appraising a brand.

However, some businesses make « false promises »3 about their use of AI and include it in intentionally ambiguous messaging. They may be promising that you will win new markets, double your revenue, reduce a task time by three…

To avoid these abusive uses, businesses should always indicate exactly how AI can solve customer problems and illustrate this through concrete examples. They should also clearly explain7 how AI makes a difference in relation to the other offers on the market.

Concrete examples of AI washing

Coca Cola: AI in their advertising campaigns

Coca-Cola jumped on the trend to launch « Coca-Cola Y3000 » a version of their soda « co-created with AI » and sold in « limited edition ». The brand used AI as a selling point to create a buzz and boost sales, stating that its « unique taste » had been created partly thanks to « data gathered by AI ».

Coca Cola Y3000 - AI washing

At the same time, the company placed a QR code on their coke Y3000, for promotional reasons. Once scanned, consumers have access to the « Coca-Cola Creations Hub », a special website on which they can place a photo of their surroundings and add a futuristic filter. These viral contents are shared by consumers on the social networks and promote the drink on these platforms.

The Coca-Cola brand used “AI” in their sales message (« taste the future », « co-created with artificial intelligence », « a drink inspired by the future »…) to promote the unprecedented nature of their drink, however they are not the first brand on the market to use the AI selling point. This was also the case with Vivi Kola and their « Vivi Nova » soda in Switzerland, Hell Energy with their « Hell AI » energy drink in Hungary, Beck's with their « Autonomous » beer in Germany…

Abuses of AI: Amazon goes even further

Some companies have taken things further, exploiting invisible workers to serve Artificial Intelligence (AI).

For example, in 2006, Amazon launched « Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) ». Presented as « a crowdsourcing marketplace », in reality MTurk is a platform for « micro-workers » on which the contributors are « paid peanuts ».

Through this platform, individuals can access thousands of repetitive, tedious « tasks », with little value added (called Human Intelligence Tasks or HIT), which often contribute « to AI algorithms »: identification of information on images, categorization, tagging…

Carried out through the internet, these tasks require no qualifications and pay just « a few cents », transforming the contributors into « clickworkers ».

AI washing: impacts on the technology

These « abusive » uses of AI discredit the technology, which is revolutionary in many fields: industry, eCommerce, translation, IT…

Reduced to a simple marketing pitch, AI is used « everywhere » and loses some of its differentiating and innovative character on the market.

It is a pity that so many businesses are AI washing, as AI is a powerful technology with a strong potential for growth. It can bring true added value to businesses on a daily basis.

As an example, certain PIM (Product Information Management) solution editors integrate AI features in their tools to help their clients to automate certain low value tasks and to increase productivity in the design of their print and digital productions (product datasheets, flyers, catalogs, brochures…) to free up time for their core profession and meaningful tasks.

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1 Artificial intelligence (AI) market size worldwide in 2021 with a forecast until 2030. (2023, October 6). Statista.
2 Zakharenko, H. (2023, August 24). AI is so hot even KFC and Williams-Sonoma execs are talking about it. Washington Post.
3 Olson, P. (2019, March 4). Nearly half of all ‘AI startups' are cashing in on hype. Forbes.
4 Statista. (2023, December 5). Share of consumers who believed that trustworthiness and transparency were the most important traits of a brand worldwide in 2021 and 2022.
5 Poisson, J. (2020, January 21). Opinion | Pour en finir avec l' « IA washing » et l' « IA bashing ». Les Echos.
6 Gartner says AI technologies will be in almost every new software product by 2020. (2017, July 18). Gartner.
7 Gayte, A. (2023, September 16). Coca Goût IA : Coca-Cola sort un soda fait avec de l'intelligence artificielle. Numerama.
8 Jadoul, A. (2023, September 18). Quand l'IA aide à créer une boisson.
9 L'IA, le nouvel ingrédient fétiche des marques de boissons pour abreuver la Gen Z. (2023, September 15).
10 Chadwick, J. (2023, September 23). The beer of the future? MailOnline tastes one of the world's first beers designed by AI. Mail Online.
11 Orain, G. (2017, May 22). Sur Amazon Turk, les forçats du clic. Le
12 Boulestin, R. (2023, September 9). Micro-travail : l'autre forme d'auto-entreprenariat. Orange Professionnels.
13 Courrier International. (2023, June 15). Les petites mains d'Amazon utilisent l'IA pour des tâches censément réservées aux humains. Courrier International.

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