Walmart’s Leap into AI
This week in Responsible AI (RAI) Radar we’re talking about Walmart’s latest AI-powered services, as unveiled at CES 2024. From generative AI search features to AI replenishment tools and AR platforms, Walmart is actively reshaping the retail experience. Let’s explore how RAI principles apply to these projects.
Ensuring Positive Impact
As illustrated by the theme of CES this year, there is a lot of pressure in the market to deploy AI for a variety of purposes. Will applications like AI loss prevention and AR fitting rooms truly improve the human experience? What are the possible harms? Walmart will surely be monitoring its new AI products and services using a wide range of metrics, and they’ve likely already faced tough design trade-offs between customer experience, universal accessibility, and sales performance, among other goals.
Data Ethics, Consent, and Trust
Walmart’s vision for “adaptive retail” will both require and produce extensive data about consumers and their behavior. Ensuring the protection of these data and maintaining user trust is fundamental to responsible AI practice. Here, consent checkboxes and long terms and conditions text are often not enough. In the case of shopping recommendations, for example, users want to be understood, not be profiled or manipulated.
Bias, Fairness, Inclusivity
The diversity of Walmart’s customers means that any new AI model has to be designed and tested especially rigorously. Mainstream iterations of generative AI, in particular, are known to reproduce harmful biases and hateful language from broader culture. Then there’s also the common problem that an AI model simply won’t work for some people. Walmart’s AI initiatives should prioritize inclusivity and fairness, ensuring they are beneficial to all customers, regardless of their abilities, background, economic status, geographic location, or age.
CEO Doug McMillon emphasizes that Walmart is using “technology to serve people and not the other way around.” Along with the consideration of AI’s impact on jobs, this principled approach shows that Walmart is definitely thinking about RAI. However, the real test lies in operationalizing these high-level principles across an organization’s practices and business units, so that the impact of RAI can be seen through safer and more fulfilling user experiences.
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