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IBM to Use AI to Detect Bias in Advertising

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ARMONK, N.Y.—IBM Watson Advertising has announced a six month research initiative that will use open source AI technology and campaign data from the Ad Council to better understand unwanted bias in advertising, with the goal of laying the foundation for avoiding those biases. 

"We find ourselves at a moment in history where a long-overdue discourse on socioeconomic inequalities is dominating the national agenda and compelling action," said Bob Lord, senior vice president, Worldwide Ecosystems at IBM. "Our hope is that AI can be the catalyst for reducing unwanted bias in advertising, just as it is helping to transform the advertising industry as it rebuilds for an era without third party cookies. Through this research we are taking an important first step toward that goal, applying scientific rigor to determine just how big of an impact AI can have."

The effort comes at a time when the advertising industry is facing criticism for biases in ads and marketing campaigns.  

One study conducted by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media found male characters appeared in advertisements 12% more than females. Yet, women-led and gender-balanced videos yielded 30% more views than other videos, indicating that there is a demand for more inclusive content and that biases can hurt the performance of ad campaigns. 

In launching the research initiative, IBM Watson Advertising noted that unwanted bias in advertising has the potential to negatively impact consumers who may miss out on an economic opportunity or feel targeted based on stereotypes, while also negatively impacting brands that may experience poor campaign performance. 

Areas of exploration will include an analysis of the prevalence and frequency of bias in campaigns. Using the AI Fairness 360 toolkit, a suite of open-source AI tools developed by IBM and donated to the Linux Foundation, the study will look at how certain audiences of past and active campaigns are being targeted with creative content to assess whether bias was present.

The study will also explore how the context in which an advertisement is delivered, impact bias and the capabilities of AI to potentially mitigate bias. 

Data from the Ad Council's "It's Up to You" COVID-19 Vaccine Education initiative will be used for this initial research phase. 

The AI Fairness 360 toolkit will be used to examine the data and determine whether there are ways AI can be useful to help mitigate discrimination and bias.