Adding Authentic Integrity to Artificial Intelligence: The Upside of Responsible AI

BCG GAMMA editor
4 min readJun 1, 2020


By Steven Mills and Cathy Carlisi

This is the second in a series of articles exploring how companies can become leaders in Responsible AI. The focus of the first article was on defining Responsible AI. In this article we share a perspective on why business leaders should care.

When developing AI systems, companies do not need to choose between protecting customers and growing the bottom line. This is a false choice. If AI is developed with an organization’s authentic purpose at its core, companies can deliver Responsible AI solutions that boost both their bottom line, protect their customers, and have a higher-order impact in the world.

In fact, there are social and business costs when companies ignore Responsible AI considerations. Improper data use, bias against protected groups, or erroneous outputs open the door to litigation, financial loss, and reputational damage. From a company improperly selling customer data, to discrimination in hiring algorithms, to improper cancer treatment recommendations — examples abound of organizations inadvertently creating AI that undermines business basics as well as basic human rights and may inadvertently move society backwards instead of forward.

However, Responsible AI should not be viewed as a risk avoidance mechanism, but rather a vehicle to intentionally and deliberately take action that is authentic and ethical. When an organization uses its Purpose and Principles as guardrails, their AI reflects their values. This is the foundation upon which to build meaningful upside for all stakeholders. In this article, we explore a range of benefits for organizations that pursue Responsible AI.

Benefits of Responsible AI

1. Brand differentiation

Increasingly, companies have grown more focused on staying true to their purpose and their foundational principles — and customers are rewarding them for these priorities. Today’s consumers want and expect businesses to be sensitive to the impact of their actions on society. That’s why artificial intelligence without authentic integrity will fail brands every time. Customers are increasingly making choices to do business with companies whose own choices demonstrate values aligned with their own. Companies that do well in delivering what BCG calls total societal impact (TSI) — the aggregate of their impact on society — boast higher margins and valuations. Companies must make sure that their AI initiatives are aligned with what they value, and the positive impact they seek to make through their Purpose. Otherwise, at best, you’ve been compliant when you could have grown connection with customers and employees in an increasingly competitive business environment.

2. Improved recruiting and retention

Responsible AI helps attract the elite digital talent that is critical to the success of firms around the world. Seventy-eight percent of tech workers want practical methods and resources to help consider societal impact when building products. They want guardrails based on an authentic Purpose. In the UK, one in six AI workers has quit their jobs out of frustration with what they considered to be harmful products. That’s more than three times the rate for the technology sector as a whole. And numerous protests have engulfed major companies over perceived ethical AI lapses.

Along with inspiring employees, Responsible AI can empower them. Think of robots delivering the necessary equipment to technicians at various points along an assembly line to boost productivity, or customization tools that help teachers tailor learning materials to an individual student’s needs.

Responsible AI can help schedule workers in ways that optimize both their own well being as well as the company’s. Rather than designing work schedules that aim for profit maximization over the short run, a Responsible AI approach would balance employee and company objectives. By building more sustainable schedules, companies will see employee turnover fall, reducing the costs of hiring and training, which alone exceeds $80 billion annually in the U.S.

3. Driving the bottom line

Finally, Responsible AI can be used to help build systems with more reliable and explainable outcomes, as well as better performance. These outcomes, based on authentic and ethical strengths, help build greater trust, drive enhanced loyalty, and can boost revenues. Major companies such as Salesforce, IBM, Microsoft, and Google all have public principles for Responsible AI. And for good reason, as people weigh ethics three times more heavily than competence when assessing a company’s trustworthiness. And that carries a heavy financial cost. In the United States, in the year following a data misuse incident companies lost one-third of revenue from affected customers.

Companies that practice Responsible AI — and that let their clients and users know it — can increase market share and long-term profitability.

Building Systems of Trust

A week doesn’t go by without a news report about improper uses of AI or system failure. But framing Responsible AI as a preventative measure against financial and reputational damage misses its true potential. For AI to achieve a meaningful and transformational impact on business, it’s essential that it is crafted around an organization’s distinctive Purpose so it can build transparency and trust that binds company and customer, manager and team, as well as citizen and society.

The best way to build that trust is through Responsible AI. Because, ultimately, AI will build the world around us. At BCG, our Purpose is to Unlock the Potential of Those Who Advance the World. Moving the world forward cannot be done superficially. To shift the way systems are designed, developed, and deployed is to create the right progress, to move the world in the right direction.

Next up in the series, we’ll discuss how organizations can make the shift to Responsible AI.