Illustration woman with magic broom

What we can learn about AI's ethical issues from Disney’s Fantasia

As technologies like machine learning proliferate across every aspect of our lives, they’ll also appear more and more across the business technology landscape. So, now is as good a time as any to explore an important question for AI research that all kinds of organisations will need to be aware of. Why is it important that AI is ethical? And, specifically, what are the ethical dilemmas associated with AI? To answer that, I’ll draw on a source you may not expect, which happens to be one of the most iconic animated films of all time. But first things first. Before we get down to the details of these ethical issues, let’s start by exploring what the ‘ethics of AI’ really means.

The Terminator lied to you

It’s vital that future applications of AI do good for humanity. In popular culture, we’ve often looked at AI as something that’s either intrinsically good or evil in terms of its intent. Often, it’s a sinister digital being that seeks mankind’s downfall: Skynetthe MatrixMegatronHAL 9000, etc.

This idea of AI having good or bad intentions is a red herring – at least right now, with the level the technology is at. We’re still a long way off machines with sentience or sentiments. AI is still very much a tool, with no intent of its own except what we programme for it. Terms like ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are better applied to AI in terms of the end results of its actions. AI may be programmed with the intent to serve us well, but the road to hell, as they say, is paved with good intentions.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

There’s a story I often bring up when talking about the dangers of AI: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. It originally appeared in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s 18th century poem, but you might have seen it in Disney’s extravaganza of animation and classical music: Fantasia.

The sorcerer’s apprentice, played by Mickey Mouse in the film, is tired of cleaning the sorcerer’s home, so he enchants a broom to do the work for him. This is AI fulfilling the basic mission statement of all technology. Right back to stone tools and the wheel: we create a machine to do the work to save us time and energy.

So far, so good. However, the enchanted broom is so good at its job that the place is soon flooded with water. Poor Mickey didn’t programme it to stop cleaning or set the right parameters for what ‘clean’ means. All the broom knows is that it was told to clean. The situation quickly spirals out of control.

This is the danger that AI really poses for us, right now. Not an evil robot wanting to take over the world, but a tool that’s good at doing a task we’ve given it, and the instructions we’ve given it are flawed. Or, in the case of AI that learns how to make decisions and do a job by itself, that it has learned the wrong lessons. AI is a great student: we just have to ensure we’re a good teacher.

It's a matter of trust

Trust is very, very important when it comes to AI. Popular culture has already led to some distrust – the portrayals of the evil robots in the movies. But, in reality, we don’t connect these images with the many everyday instances of AI making our lives easier all the time. Alexa. Google. Snapchat filters. Amazon and Netflix recommendations. We already trust AI to do so much for us.

As time goes by, we’ll be trusting AI with even more important matters. Whether your self-driving car decides to speed up or slow down, or whether it decides it’s seen a plastic bag in the road or a pedestrian. Or an AI checking medical records for signs of disease. You want to be able to trust that it’s making the right decisions, which could potentially be matters of life and death.

Explain yourself, AI!

This need to trust AI is where a concept called ‘explainability’ comes into play. If your mortgage decision has been turned down by an AI, you’re going to want to know why – or at least know that somebody, a human somebody, can understand why. That the AI’s thinking can be explained in terms we understand and we can say “OK, fair enough”.

The problem is, the smarter AI gets, the more it’s able to look at data and draw its own conclusions. That’s kind of the whole point: we don’t want to have to be constantly supervising and teaching AI, but to be able to let it learn to do its job from the data it gets. But the smarter AI becomes, seeing patterns we’d never see in huge, complex datasets, the harder it is for us to understand its thinking. It’s making connections we never would, because it’s got access to more information than we can handle, and it can see patterns that we can’t see in both the big picture and the tiny details.

What’s in the (black) box?

This lack of explainability is referred to as the “black box of AI”: AI decision-making as a closed box that we cannot see into, and therefore we cannot trust. A machine intelligence that is different to our own, which we cannot count on to look after our best interests and act for good. This is how the villain of popular culture manifests itself in modern AI, but not as an evil robot. It’s a machine trying to a good job for us, a dog keen to fetch the sticks we throw, but such an advanced learner that its decision-making is beyond our understanding and may mean it’s not making the right choices for us.

Explainability poses huge ethical issues in AI research, and it’s a safeguard that AI developers are working to build into their software. As AI becomes more and more widespread throughout our lives, there is going to be a call from the public for these safeguards to be used in the digital tools they come into contact with.

The next hot-button ethical issue?

When an AI developer puts ethical AI at the core of its research, they’re committed to an aspect of AI that may become increasingly demanded. It’s an issue that already affects us all right now, but its importance is set to skyrocket in the coming weeks, months and years. With the advent of data protection regulations like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), we’ve already seen data protection and cybersecurity become hot-button tech issues of our times, and it’s likely that AI ethics will become another.

Responsible tech companies, and those trusted by the public, will be the ones who learn the lesson of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Instead of blindly getting carried away with AI’s potential to work for us more and more efficiently, we must also make sure it's working for us in ways we can trust.

If your business needs to communicate corporate social responsibility messages about AI ethics, data protection or sustainability in tech, Fifty Five and Five can help. We understand the issues and the technology and have the experience and expertise to tell your stories and make your selling-points shine.

Meet the team: Alex, writer

Today, we’ll have a chat with Alex Carnegie, a writer in our content team. Alex will tell us a bit about his working life and the insights he brings to our client base here at Fifty Five and Five.  

Hi Alex! Tell us a little about yourself. 

I’m Alex Carnegie, a writer at Fifty Five and FiveI come up with ideas and write copy for our clients’ content and campaigns. That can include website copy, articles, eBooks and whitepapers, as well as ad copy, social media and really anything else that pops up 

Who do you report to? 

I report to our Head of Content Stephen Reilly, who oversees anything we do with words in itOf all my colleagues, I’d say I work most closely with other writers, but my job takes me all around the agency. Most days I’m collaborating with designers, SEO specialists and the accounts team.  

Describe a typical working day 

It all starts with a coffee and checking my to do list. The longer the list, the stronger the coffee, generally. The main chunk of most of my day is sat at a computer, creating content and working on campaign concepts. This ranges across many different clients, which is great because it provides a lot of variety. Alongside that, I’ll also edit and proof-read other writers’ work, using the full Microsoft Word comment functionality. Some would perhaps say too much use… 

Sometimes, an entire day of time can be reserved to one client, for instance working on a big website project. For work like this, simply getting a hold on all the moving parts is a task in itself, there’s a lot of collaboration with our web design and development team. We spend a lot of time keeping complex projects like this moving, avoiding bottlenecks in communication or one person waiting for something from someone else before they can get their work done. I’ve no idea how project managers are able to keep all these plates spinning at once.  

What skills do you think are needed to be good in your role as a writer? 

The obvious one here is attention to detail in writing and a good grasp of the nuts and bolts of language. Spelling, grammar and generally knowing how to construct an effective sentence. But really, that’s the bare minimum. To write copy that’s engaging, persuasive and achieves what it sets out to, you have to really enjoy writing – even if the subject matter is challenging. This comes across in the final piece and helps you to find creative ways to say things, creative concepts, and make the work stand out. It’s more of a mindset than a skillset.  

In terms of writing skills, you need to be able to express your message, without leaving anything out, and still make an impact – often within a fairly tight structure. Writing banner ads and social copy is good training for this; it teaches you to write good copy and clear meaning within rigid character limits. Website copy is similar – another format that has to be very immediate punchy and attention grabbing.  

What do you love about your job?

Writing, as obvious as that sounds. There’s a sheer joy in finding the best way to say something, which gets the message across and does so smoothly, vividly, sometimes funnily, sometimes seriously and hopefully enjoyably. There are few things more satisfying than hitting the ‘Enter’ key after you’ve just written something really good. That’s why I couldn’t imagine doing anything else for a living.  

What’s the hardest part? 

Writing. When the right word or phrase has eluded you for an hour and is still nowhere to be found… it can be tough. A lot of writing is just staring at a blank page, and the gears are turning but no words are appearing. And then suddenly everything will come together at once and you’re left thinking ‘wow, it really took me half an hour to write that paragraph?’ But, as they say, the only way out is through – so you just have to keep trying ‘till you get there. 

What advice would you give to anyone starting out as a writer?

Make your peace with criticism; you’re going to get a lot of it as a writer. Some will be constructive, some less so, some will be more pointed than it needs to be, some will be genuinely frustrating and some of it will be just plain wrong. Many new writers get into a trap of seeing criticism as something they have to defend against, getting stuck in an endless cycle of taking criticism to heart and arguing with it. It’s much easier for everyone if you get used to the fact that you’ll get a lot of criticism – and try and take it in a constructive spirit.  

A comment or question might seem quite cutting in the black and white comment box – but at the end of the day we’re all trying to do good work. Don’t lose sight of that.  

Illustration women holding placards

Licences to kill: Changes to Office 365 licence types, from Office 365 to Microsoft 365

Something Earth-shattering has happened in the Microsoft world. From the 1st of May 2020, the tech giant’s flagship productivity suite Office 365 became Microsoft 365. We’ll explain what these changes to Office 365 licence types mean for businesses – and also consumers – and explore how this fits into a wider trend for Microsoft. Read on to learn more.

What’s in a name?  

Microsoft 365 has already existed for businesses since way back in 2017. That was when Microsoft first bundled Office 365, Windows 10 and more into one package: a step that many would describe as bringing us all closer to Microsoft-as-a-Service. More on that later.   

With so much overlap between the two offerings, abandoning Office 365 and going all-in with Microsoft 365 addresses customer confusion. As well as Office, the original Microsoft 365 package also included Windows 10, as well as Microsoft Enterprise Mobility + Security – a big draw for customers as well. This move is intended to simplify things, focus Microsoft’s offerings, and make it clearer for customers what’s available and what they should choose.     

The reinvented Microsoft 365 now offers all Microsoft’s indispensable business tools packaged in a series of tiers, from ‘basic’ to premium’. These new tiers correspond with the existing Office 365 packages. For instance, Office 365 Business Essentials is now Microsoft 365 Business Basic. Check out the table below to see how they’ve been grouped.  

Don’t panic! 

OK, we’re sorry for alarming you earlier. Maybe ‘Earth-shattering’ was a little over the top. Existing Office 365 subscribers don’t need to worry. As you can see, there are no changes to which Microsoft apps, services and features you receive. And the prices haven’t changed, either. Customers don’t need to do anything to move to Microsoft 365 – your subscription updates automatically.  

These changes to how Microsoft’s products and services are positioned may take some getting used to. It’s possible there could be more in the future as Microsoft refines their portfolio further. But for now, if you’re a Microsoft reseller or you work elsewhere in the Microsoft 365 or Office 365 ecosystem, there shouldn’t be too much disruption to your business.  

And there’s good news for new customers looking to get on board with the new Microsoft 365. Microsoft has announced that it’s offering small businesses six months’ free Microsoft 365 Business Basic. Right now, many organisations are grappling with the need to move to remote working as quickly as possible, catalysed by social distancing and the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis. Right now, businesses need all the help they can get to maximise productivity and stay on track, so this will come as welcome news to many.  

Microsoft 365 for personal and family users 

The changes in Microsoft’s enterprise offerings are also accompanied by changes in the consumer sphere. Although businesses have been on board with Microsoft 365 for some years now, personal and family subscriptions are finally following suit with the arrival of Microsoft 365 Personal and Family.  

Microsoft has called the new Microsoft 365 Personal and Family ‘the subscription service for your life’. They’re packaging up everything for consumers, including the latest desktop and browser-based Office apps, 1TB of OneDrive cloud storage per person, 60 minutes of Skype calling, as well as advanced security features and tech support.  

Personal and family users will also have access to a range of new AI and cloud-powered features. They’ll receive more than 8,000 images and 175 looping videos from Getty Images, as well as 300 new fonts and 2,800 new icons for use in Word and Excel. They also get more than 200 new templates for Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

MS Office features  

Microsoft’s Editor writing assistant is also coming to Word and, as well as Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge Extensions. Forthcoming Excel features include Money, which helps consumers to track, manage and analyse their spending. And PowerPoint now includes the AI-driven Presenter Coach, which looks at tone of voice and grammar, helping people to give better presentations.  

There is also new functionality planned for outlook, bringing together personal and work calendars so users can better manage commitments in their working and personal lives. And a new Microsoft Family Safety app for Android and iOS allows families to manage screen time across Windows and Android devices, as well as Microsoft’s Xbox gaming consoles. Parents can easily monitor their children’s internet usage and gaming, set limits, and keep them away from age-inappropriate content. It also provides location sharing to help keep tabs on everyone and keep them safe.  

Changes to Office 365 licence types: The latest step toward Microsoft-as-a-Service 

Thchanges to Office 365 licence types is Microsoft’s latest move toward simplifying and consolidating their branding and services. It’s part of a trajectory that began when they first introduced Office 365 in 2011. When Microsoft’s Jerry Nixon announced at Inspire 2015 that Windows 10 would be the ‘last version of Windows’, it was another sign of where the future is headed: Microsoft-as-a-Service.  

Enterprise customers have had a while to get to grips with the as-a-service model and its numerous benefits. For instance: swapping sporadic, larger capital expenditures (CapEx) for smaller, regular and more easily planned and managed operating expenses (OpEx). Spotify, Netflix and other services have already gotten consumers used to consuming their digital content on a subscription basis, from consolidated sources. It seems Microsoft has decided that they’re now ready to extend this to their operating system as well as their word processor, spreadsheet, and other tools.  

Powered by the cloud revolution, this paradigm shift in the way we pay for and use our technology is changing everything, and it’s the way the wind’s been blowing for some time. We’re interested to see where the road will ultimately take us.  

10 common Google Ads mistakes to avoid (Part two)

Do the results from your Google Ads campaigns match the ambitions you set? Here are ten Google Ads mistakes to avoid so that you can achieve the results you are hoping for. 

Recently, I sat down with our two longest-serving paid media specialists, Laura and Maria, to discuss some of the Google Ads mistakes to avoid when running paid media campaigns. However, they were keen not just to highlight mistakes but also to earmark a few areas of the platform that are hidden away or less known.  

We had to split the blog into two parts, because Laura and Maria overwhelmed me with tips and adviceYou can read the first five mistakes to avoid here. Now, let’s take a look at the final five. 

Google ads mistake 6Forgetting about Search or Display is an easy mistake to make 

A nice easy one to kick off the second part of our list. But, as Laura and Maria both suggest, it’s one that is all too easy to forget about. When setting up a campaign, you need to remember to tell Google what kind of campaign you are running and which kind of network it is targeted at. 

Laura’s advice: When you are setting up a campaign, you have different steps you need to go through. These are: 

  • The type of campaign 
  • The name of the campaign 
  • The networks you are targeting 

You need to go through these and set up the right ones for your campaign. The mistake here concerns the last of these, networks. 

Google works with many partners across the internet. These are divided into Search and Display. Search ads are those you see at the top or bottom of the Search Engine Results Page. Display ads are graphic ads that appear on web pages, usually at the top or on the side of web pages – think of the banners at the top of a news article or a pop-up video that might appear midway through reading. If you leave both boxes ticked, your ad will be targeted at all of these partners. 

 If you are setting up a Search campaign, you don’t want it to be targeted at the Display partners. It doesn’t make sense to do this, but it is all too easy to forget to untick the Display box. This is a mistake that is easy to make when you are new to the platform. 

Google ads mistake 7: If you don’t use a benchmark, you won’t know what to expect 

When starting any Google Ads campaign, it is important to have a good idea of what to expect. This way you can plan accordingly. By looking at previous campaigns with similar budgets you can get an accurate forecast of what is achievable. 

Maria’s advice: Not analysing the data is a huge mistake. Everyone needs to analyse the data. 

You need to compare a new campaign with previous campaigns that had similar objectives and budgets. We always look to see how many clicks those previous campaigns achieved for the budget that was spent. This gives us a benchmark, which we can use to plan the strategy for the next campaignThis way we can show our clients that if they invest a certain amount of money, they will get certain level of results. 

This is incredibly useful. Imagine a client wants to spend £500 on three-month campaign. We can look at the benchmark, and it shows just what the impact will be. For instance, £500 might be used up in a week; it’s not enough for the results the client is hoping for – and we’ll suggest another strategy. 

Google Ads mistake 8: Not making use of ad extensions is a missed opportunity 

Ad extensions are the small additions you see directly underneath an ad, usually consisting of side links or extra information. Google lets you add all sorts of useful information here and making best use of these is an important part of running a successful Google Ads campaign. 

Laura’s advice: “Using ad extensions is one of the many things that Google puts forwards as an example of best practice. They highly recommend it, because it drives traffic to your ads and results in a good click-through-rate (CTR) for your campaign. What’s more, it’s tactical. You can take up as much room as possible from the search rank, to push you up and competitors down.” 

“You can add as many ad extensions as you want. You can include an address or contact details or links to other pages on the web site. You can connect to Google Maps, which will provide directions on how to get to your business. You can even add a phone number as a link (a “call side link”), so that when it is clicked it automatically begins a phone call.” 

These are all tools which simplify how the user can get in touch with you. It’s important to use these, especially if you are a local business offering services for local people. If a campaign is local to city, or even on a national level, this can be really useful. 46% of all Google searches are linked to something local. So, it is a big mistake not to take advantage of this.” 

Google Ad mistake nine: You should optimise your ads every day or you’ll miss out 

It’s really important to keep monitoring the performance of your ads. By looking at the data you can find ways to optimise themLaura and Maria recommend doing this every day. Here, Laura gives an example of one area you can exploit. 

Maria’s advice: In general a lot of the work on a Google Ads campaign is done up front. You need to plan ahead for keywords and ad copy. But there are many opportunities to improve your ads once the campaign has begun. So, you need to keep an eye on how the campaign is developing, so that you can optimise it daily.  

Laura’s advice: “The campaign overview offers a glimpse of how the campaign is performing, providing the main highlights. One thing it tells you is the difference between devices – i.e. how your ad is performing on desktop computers or on mobile phones.” 

“If it performs well on mobile, there are things you can do to tweak your ad to reach mobile users even better. You could start by including ad extensions that work well with mobile users, for instance adding contact details or call side linksAs people are looking at the ads on the go, why not make sure the address is there, so they can get in contact if they are in the area. It’s important to take advantage of things like that. 

Google Ads mistake ten – If you don’t use rules, you risk unnecessary errors 

If used correctly, Google’s Rules can give you greater control over your campaigns. As Maria says, it’s a lifesaver and can prevent all sorts of difficult situations developing. 

Maria’s advice: “This was a big discovery for us. It’s really useful because it gives you more control over your ads – effectively, it prevents you from making mistakes.” 

“Usually we will use it for spending, but it can be used for anything. Sometimes, as we mentioned in mistake five in part one of this blog series, even if you set up spending for the day, it can go over, or even double. With rules you can tell Google when you want the campaign to stop, for instance at a certain time or under certain conditions. For instance, once you reach the budget, stop.” 

“Google doesn’t let you pick a total budget, just the number of days the campaign will run and the daily budget. If you don’t check that daily, Google can easily spend that budget in two days. So, if you set up rules, you can tell Google to stop the campaign if a certain amount of money is spent. It’s a lifesaver.” 

This is an important tool, yet many marketers don’t know it exists. Its a hidden one. Unless you went through a certain certification where you are shown the whole platform and how it works, you won’t know to use it. 

Realise your ambitions with Google Ads 

At Fifty Five and Five, our purpose is to help our clients realise their ambitionsWe plan, execute and manage a wide variety of paid media campaigns of all sizes and budgets. Over the years our PPC team has grown in experience and expertise – and some of the biggest organisations around the world trust us to run Google Ads campaigns for them.