Generative AI Technology Takes Center Stage as Retail Leaders and IT Executives Prioritize Ethical Adoption


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Retail leaders and stakeholders from diverse sectors are turning their attention to the potential of generative AI. The cutting-edge technology, hailed for its capacity to revolutionize various aspects of work and learning, is thus increasingly under the spotlight. 

As technological adoption becomes more rapid in the retail industry, leaders are looking to make generative AI technology a top priority for their organizations. The shift comes with the need to mitigate risk and ensure ethical adoption according to Kathy Baxter, Principal Architect of Responsible AI & Tech at Salesforce.

A Revolution Across Business Functions

Kathy Baxter

Generative AI possesses the power to permeate every facet of retail operations, from sales and marketing to customer service, commerce, IT, legal, human resources, and beyond, according to Baxter. With that, it will redefine how retailers and other companies engage with customers and will help propel business growth.

At the same time, a palpable sense of apprehension persists. Baxter said in an interview that the majority of senior IT leaders are concerned about the security risks associated with these technologies, along with the potential for biased outcomes. It is a stark reminder that alongside technological advancements, organizations must grapple with the ethical and transparent use of the powerful tool.

Navigating Ethical Challenges

According to Baxter, who recently spoke at the Salesforce Dreamforce 2023 conference in San Francisco, one of the central challenges lies in ensuring that generative AI is employed ethically and responsibly, particularly within enterprise settings. Unlike private, individual use, retailers and other businesses must navigate a labyrinth of industry-specific regulations and ethical implications. The margin for error, such as providing incorrect instructions, underscores the need for clear ethical guidelines to avert unintended consequences and harm.

Introducing Ethical Frameworks for Generative AI

In response to these challenges, Baxter explained that ethical guidelines have emerged for organizations navigating the generative AI landscape. These guidelines, while not supplanting existing ethical principles, serve as a guide for operationalizing and implementing them in the context of generative AI development.

Baxter explained the recently introduced guidelines that encompass five core focus areas. These include: 

  • Accuracy: Retailers and other organizations must train AI models on their own data to ensure accuracy, communicate uncertainty in AI responses, and provide transparency in sourcing information.
  • Safety: Mitigating bias, toxicity, and harmful outputs is paramount. Privacy protection and security assessments are crucial to identify vulnerabilities.
  • Honesty: Respecting data provenance, consent, and transparency in AI-generated content are fundamental.
  • Empowerment: Generative AI should augment human capabilities, especially in industries such as retail where trust is essential, ensuring accessibility and fair treatment of contributors.
  • Sustainability: Reducing the carbon footprint of large language models is a sustainability imperative.

As retailers gear up to integrate generative AI, Baxter explained some key strategies which include using zero-party and first-party data, ensuring data freshness and accuracy, and maintaining a human-in-the-loop approach to safeguard accuracy and ethical standards.

Continuous Oversight and Feedback

Generative AI cannot operate in a set-and-forget manner,  Baxter noted, necessitating constant oversight and testing for accuracy, bias, and ethical considerations. Listening to employees, advisors, and communities is vital to retailers to identify and mitigate risks.

As generative AI continues its rapid ascent into the mainstream, Baxter said that retailers must assume the mantle of responsibility to ensure ethical usage and harm mitigation. By adhering to ethical guidelines and staying committed to a robust ethical framework, retailers and other companies can embrace this transformative technology while preserving accuracy, safety, honesty, empowerment, and sustainability. In this era of rapid transformation, a steadfast ethical foundation will serve as a compass for retailers navigating the evolving landscape of generative AI.

Craig Patterson
Craig Patterson
Located in Toronto, Craig is the Publisher & CEO of Retail Insider Media Ltd. He is also a retail analyst and consultant, Advisor at the University of Alberta School Centre for Cities and Communities in Edmonton, former lawyer and a public speaker. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for over 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees.


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