Companies continue to hype up the ways artificial intelligence can enhance their businesses, and the government is taking notice.
A Federal Trade Commission lawyer warned companies Monday against making misleading marketing claims about their AI ambitions and products, quipping that businesses “don’t need a machine to predict what the FTC might do when those claims are unsupported.”
Michael Atleson, an attorney with the FTC’s division of advertising practices, wrote in a blog post that “some products with AI claims might not even work as advertised in the first place,” adding that “for FTC enforcement purposes — false or unsubstantiated claims about a product’s efficacy are our bread and butter.”
His warning comes amid frenzied interest in AI on Wall Street and elsewhere, fueled by the surging popularity of OpenAI’s ChatGPT chatbot, which ushered in a more popular understanding of what AI can do and how it can be harnessed in creative ways. After Microsoft Corp. MSFT,
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“AI hype is playing out today across many products, from toys to cars to chatbots and a lot of things in between,” Atleson said, noting that marketing plays into that.
The FTC will look at a number of factors in assessing AI-related advertising.
“For example, we’re not yet living in the realm of science fiction, where computers can generally make trustworthy predictions of human behavior,” Atleson wrote. “Your performance claims would be deceptive if they lack scientific support or if they apply only to certain types of users or under certain conditions.”
There’s also the nagging sense that many companies hawking AI endeavors may not actually have AI in their products at all.
“‘If you think you can get away with baseless claims that your product is AI-enabled, think again.’”
— Michael Atleson, an attorney with the FTC’s division of advertising practices
“If you think you can get away with baseless claims that your product is AI-enabled, think again,” Atleson wrote. “In an investigation, FTC technologists and others can look under the hood and analyze other materials to see if what’s inside matches up with your claims.”
In that sense, “merely using an AI tool in the development process is not the same as a product having AI in it.”
Additionally, the FTC will assess claims that AI-powered products are better than regular ones. Companies claim such things “perhaps to justify a higher price or influence labor decisions,” he noted, but they “need adequate proof for that kind of comparative claim, too, and if such proof is impossible to get, then don’t make the claim.”
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Atleson suggested that companies might be quick to breathlessly profess the wonders of AI while asking for a pass if things go awry.
“If something goes wrong — maybe it fails or yields biased results — you can’t just blame a third-party developer of the technology,” he said. “And you can’t say you’re not responsible because that technology is a ‘black box’ you can’t understand or didn’t know how to test.”