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Here’s How Companies Can Persuade Their Customers to Be Less Skeptical of AI

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For all the media and investor attention on artificial intelligence—and all the hype that surrounds the technology—consumers remain wary.

Whether it’s the talk of potential job loss, the tales of wild hallucinations by chatbots or just the innate frustration they’ve experienced in their own attempts to talk with a robot, their skepticism is strong—and deep rooted.

That’s a potential stumbling block in the not-too-distant future as businesses pour billions into AI initiatives. A new report from Bentley University finds that 79% of Americans don’t trust companies to use AI in a responsible way.

"Does AI have enormous potential? Yes,” says Mareike Möhlmann, assistant professor of Information and Process Management at Bentley University. “Will businesses tap AI’s huge potential to do good and not evil in the world? The jury’s still out – and they’re very skeptical."

So how can companies make their customers more comfortable with AI initiatives? It’s going to come down to a few factors:

Brand Identity

The stronger a company’s reputation is without AI in the mix, the more likely consumers are to give any AI efforts a chance. Trust is slow to build and quick to dissipate, so companies that stake their reputation on their use of AI could lure in skeptical consumers. That said, one misstep in the field can cause considerable reputational damage, which can take years to rebuild.

Data Privacy

AI, in some ways, is paying for the sins of other industries. A recent Pew Research Center survey, for instance, found that 77% of Americans have little to no trust in how social platforms might use their personal information. That same report found that 70% of respondents have “little to no trust in companies to make responsible decisions about how they use AI in their products,” and 81% believe their information will be used in ways they’re not comfortable with.

To win consumers over, companies will have to demonstrate how safe people’s personal information will be—and convince them that it won’t be harvested to tutor AI systems (and that could be the hardest thing to convince people of, ultimately).

Stronger Recommendations

This is kind of a chicken and egg situation for retailers that are trying to lean into AI. Without knowledge of the consumer’s interests, it’s nearly impossible for the AI to make a good recommendation on an item they might want to purchase. But bad recommendations only make the consumer distrust the technology more. Using the data you have on hand to inform the AI of potential buying habits can potentially help with this—and using information from people who typically buy that product can help as well, but it’s a problem that still is searching for an ultimate solution.

Conservative Use

We’ve all had the frustrating experience of dealing with a chatbot when trying to speak to a customer service representative on the phone. And if you’ve ever used a self-checkout machine, you know those are hardly infallible either. The point is: People’s interactions with robotic technology have been largely unsatisfying to date. They might make things less expensive for the grocer or cable company, but they have largely made for an unsatisfying consumer experience.

As AI becomes integrated with the consumer-facing experience, it will behoove companies to keep the human element front and center, perhaps aided quietly in the background by AI. Thrusting the technology on consumers is certain to provoke a backlash.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

Chris Morris

Chris Morris is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience, more than half of which were spent with some of the Internet’s biggest sites, including CNNMoney.com, where he was Director of Content Development, and Yahoo! Finance, where he was managing editor. Today, he writes for dozens of national outlets including Digital Trends, Fortune, and CNBC.com.

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