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Beware of companies claiming products have AI capabilities

Jul 21, 20173 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsTechnology Industry

Gartner finds software companies are exaggerating the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in their products

artificial intelligence / machine learning
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Software companies are exploiting the current artificial intelligence (AI) craze by exaggerating the scope and capabilities of AI in their products, according to a report from Gartner. 

Gartner tracks product marketing hype with a tool it calls the Hype Cycle, measuring the growth and decline of products as they mature. It calls the process of overhyping AI “AI washing,” similar to the way the term “greenwashing” was used to describe exaggerated claims of environmental-friendliness in various products or practices. 

Gartner said more than 1,000 vendors say their products employ AI, but many are “applying the AI label a little too indiscriminately.” And it has happened fast.

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In January 2016, the term “artificial intelligence” was not in the top 100 search terms on By May 2017, the term ranked at number seven, a huge spike in popularity in a short amount of time. Gartner predicts that by 2020, AI will be virtually pervasive in almost every new software product and service and a top five investment priority for more than 30 percent of CIOs. 

“As AI accelerates up the Hype Cycle, many software providers are looking to stake their claim in the biggest gold rush in recent years,” said Jim Hare, research vice president at Gartner, in a statement. “AI offers exciting possibilities, but unfortunately, most vendors are focused on the goal of simply building and marketing an AI-based product rather than first identifying needs, potential uses and the business value to customers.”

AI claims are mostly hype

But for now it’s mostly hype. What many software companies call AI is just automation and not especially intelligent. This widespread use of AI washing is already having real consequences for investment in the technology by harming trust and belief in the technology. 

“Use the term ‘AI’ wisely in your sales and marketing materials,” Hare said. “Be clear what differentiates your AI offering and what problem it solves.” 

Also, Gartner noted that advancements in AI, such as deep learning, are getting a lot of buzz but are obfuscating the value of more straightforward, proven approaches. Gartner recommends vendors use the simplest approach that can do the job over cutting-edge AI techniques. 

A Gartner survey found firms are currently looking for AI solutions to improve decision making and improve process automation. Gartner advises software vendors to promote their products as problem solvers and not just the AI hype. 

“Software vendors need to focus on offering solutions to business problems rather than just cutting-edge technology,” said Hare. “Highlight how your AI solution helps address the skills shortage and how it can deliver value faster than trying to build a custom AI solution in-house.”

Andy Patrizio is a freelance journalist based in southern California who has covered the computer industry for 20 years and has built every x86 PC he’s ever owned, laptops not included.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of ITworld, Network World, its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.