There is a lot of smoke and mirrors when it comes to artificial intelligence. Don’t get me wrong — AI and machine learning are real, and we use them to solve mission-critical business problems on a massive scale, unlike anything we’ve seen in the past.

SwissCognitiveFor instance, companies apply the technology to solve important matters of data ownership, regulatory compliance, and intellectual property. But too many people and companies these days peddle hype around what they describe as applications of ML or AI that are, in fact, not AI-driven at all. One example of this “faux AI” I spotted recently was a company that described mechanical turks as AI, claiming the system would auto-generate the information via AI processes. Looking a little deeper, I realized the company did the initial pass with some extraction methods, but humans did the heavy lifting. Unfortunately, while there is some truth to their claims, it shows more “smoke” than real product.

More than just smoke

This kind of hype damages the industry, and when customers see past the illusion they are inevitably — and rightly — disappointed. It’s not unlike when someone learns how a magician does a magic trick for the first time. Smoke and mirrors may be harmless as entertainment, but it has real consequences for business.

A scandal surrounding a business management company raised an important point recently when the industry found out it had only masqueraded its solution as driven exclusively by AI. In reality, the company regularly used a crowdsourcing platform to hire people for review and transcription of documents. This leads naturally to the question, do we actually know who handles, sees, and uses our personal data?

Your data, my data, our data

A key consideration that we overlook far too often is that contractually most terms and conditions allow vendors to use your data freely in any way they choose, especially if it’s inside that organization. In this digital age, companies hold information about people’s lives as a set of linked elements within applications — from private applications, like medical records, to public ones, such as Facebook. […]