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Report: Many firms are "AI washing" claims of intelligent products

Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Software companies are seeking to exploit the current artificial intelligence craze by "AI washing" — exaggerating the role of AI in their products, according to a new report by Gartner, the research firm.

Gartner, which tracks commercial manias through a tool it calls the Hype Cycle, compares what is currently going on in AI with a prior surge in environmental over-statement — "greenwashing, in which companies exaggerate the environmental-friendliness of their products or practices for business benefit."

The bottom line: More than 1,000 vendors say their products employ AI, but many are "applying the AI label a little too indiscriminately," Gartner says in its report. Kriti Sharma, who runs the AI team at Sage, tells Axios that a lot of companies are seeking to solve problems using AI that would be better done by humans. And what is often called AI "is just automation that you are doing," she said.

Sharma said that much of the AI techniques being used are "nothing new. They have been around since the sixties." The buzz is because of computing and software capability that have allowed AI to be used more easily, and introduced into commercial products. Now that AI is used in Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa and other apps, "it's not that scary," she said.

Why it matters: The exaggeration risks souring companies on AI before it really gets started. In addition, it diverts attention to the important task of getting AI right, like making sure accurate data is entered into machine-learning algorithms. "As AI accelerates up the Hype Cycle, many software providers are looking to stake their claim in the biggest gold rush in recent years," Gartner's Jim Hare said in a release issued for the firm's report.