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AI Washing: Separating the Bots from the Bull

This week in 3SC's AI Labs, we're diving into the comical yet concerning world of 'AI Washing,' where buzz meets bluff and clever marketing is wheeling out run-of-the-mill tech as AI. Keep reading to unmask the faux bots and celebrate the genuine innovations in the age of artificial intelligence.



You might have noticed that we’re on a bit of an AI journey at 3 Sided Cube. And by bit, I mean, we are DEEP into our AI era, hard at work at HQ experimenting and tinkering with different applications to ensure we aren’t here to merely participate, but forever innovate.

I’m Joel Dolling, Project Manager extraordinaire at 3SC and here to contribute to your AI regularly scheduled programming. As a PM, I’m already seeing an uptake on certain AI applications, but today, I wanted to dive into a comical/concerning trend I’m seeing with “AI Washing”.

AI Washing

The use of advanced tools is the difference between humans and animals. There is no other species that does it like us. From the seed drill that kicked off the agricultural revolution to the internet that gave us the information age. Usually, the use of a tool is absolutely unmistakable. For instance, you know if someone calls you using a phone because your phone rings.

Currently, we are sitting on a rocket that’s lifting off. AI promises to give us a revolution reminiscent of the internet. The thing is, AI is such an attractive marketing prospect that I’m dubious that everything that is marketed as AI is actually created by AI.

Right on theme, I turned to my steadfast and know-it-all new friend, ChatGPT to tell me what AI washing was and this is what I got back,

AI washing is the deceptive practice of overstating or misrepresenting the use of artificial intelligence in products or services to make them appear more advanced or innovative than they truly are, often for marketing purposes.

ChatGPT, The All Knowing Robot Overlord

AI is the buzzword du jour, so naturally some companies are hopping on the bandwagon to capitalise on the fascination and volume of searches surrounding AI, making their products or services appear cutting-edge and innovative.

This new wild west is in its infancy (and the gold rush is ON!) so it’s difficult to be discerning which makes it fairly easy to mislead consumers, investors, and the general public, as it may create unrealistic expectations about the capabilities of a particular product or the level of AI integration.

Sneaky forms of AI washing:

Token AI:

Adding minimal AI features or capabilities to a product or service without significantly enhancing its functionality or effectiveness.

Overhyping AI:

Using AI terminology and buzzwords extensively in marketing materials, even if the AI components have a minor role in the overall offering.

Misleading claims:

Making false or exaggerated claims about the capabilities or benefits of AI within a product or service.

Obscuring human involvement:

Failing to disclose the significant human intervention required to make AI systems work effectively, giving the impression that AI operates autonomously.


Renaming existing technologies or practices as AI-driven, even when the core technology remains unchanged.

We’ve seen this kind of clever smoke and mirror marketing with “green washing”, but unlike oil giants making an arbitrary pledge to cut their carbon footprint (lol), AI washing is a little trickier to suss out. To avoid falling for AI washing, it’s essential for all of us as users and consumers to conduct due diligence and critically evaluate the claims made about AI in products and services.

Let’s put that critical thinking to use and go through a few examples to find out…

But is it AI though?

I’m not here to piss in your Weetabix, successful adoption of AI into a project can have a significant and marked effect with minimising laborious human intervention and future-proofing the scope. AI IS the future, we just like our AI served up with a side of honesty and genuine intent.

(Shameless plug: head over to our 3SC AI Labs to see very real examples of how AI is being used for good at your friendly neighbourhood tech agency)

The implementation of AI into an existing process is difficult. For instance, you cannot replace an entire human team with AI overnight. The writer’s strike in Hollywood is a great example of this, showing that human creativity is still worth paying for even though AI could complete the same tasks.

Before we swan dive into this one, we should first understand what AI is. AI is the implementation of machine learning into a tool so that the tool can update its own responses based on data inputs. Where I think the confusion arises with AI is that people assume it means that something is computerised. CNC machines, for instance, are not AI, they are very clever machines capable of taking onboard complex instructions, but they do not learn based on inputted data, so are not AI.

That is the difference between complex computerised machines and AI.

The AI washing verdict…GUILTY

Coca Cola “AI flavour”

The first, and what I think is the most egregious example of fake AI is the Coca Cola flavour that is apparently “AI powered”. On the web page for the new flavour, Coca-Cola said that “We challenged ourselves to explore the concept of what a Coke from the future might taste like”. Frankly, I think this is preposterous for a drink that has had the same taste for over 100 years.

On the subject of “is this AI” though, the page explaining the product is not convincing me. There is a lot of talk about imagining what the year 3000 would taste like, and a lot of AI-generated imagery which leads me to believe that the flavour itself is devoid of AI input.

To be honest, this might be a good thing though, if you asked AI what the year 3000 might taste like, it would probably be a robust blend of tarmac and diesel fumes, which I’m not sure would make a great drink. I asked ChatGPT (which is fantastic and an actual AI product) what the year 3000 would taste like and it said “the taste of the year 3000 is beyond our current capacity to predict accurately”.

I don’t know about you, but I believe that.

Conclusion: My thoughts on this one are that the flavour was concocted by humans and the branding was prompted into life using AI.

Spotify: AI DJ

This one really gets to me.

In 2023, Spotify unveiled the ”AI DJ” which is a strange experience where a voice talks to you in between songs like a late-night commercial radio host. There’s a button to click if you don’t like the vibe of the music they play and they switch it up. The thing is, Spotify has been able to suggest content to you based on its algorithm and your listening history for years, maybe even a decade. There is nothing new about the songs the “AI DJ” plays because it seems to just use the Spotify algorithm, however, it does seem to be an AI-generated voice (the “DJ”) talking to you.

One thing that somewhat bothers me about the AI DJ is that it cannot be reasonably expected to be better at selecting music than the algorithm that already exists (and is definitely not AI). I think that this product was created more for the novelty of including AI, rather than AI being added because it adds material value to the proposition.

Conclusion: I’m prepared to concede on this one. The voice has to be generated by AI, but the songs it chooses are what I am dubious about. Try it regardless, nothing like a disembodied robot voice comin’ attcha in-between your favourite tunes.


This is one I doubt you’ve heard of. There’s now an “AI-powered” robot that flips burgers (among other fast food-related things). For this one, I do not doubt that this is AI, however, where I would question this is that there are already robotic arms that make drinks on cruise ships that are not AI-powered, so why is this different? What is the benefit of adding AI to this production process? I am frankly confused about Flippy.

Conclusion: I understand that the commercial drive behind the development of Flippy is that Flippy replaces 3 line cooks, so saves the business money. Where I am dubious is the longevity of Flippy. Will it be revolutionary or will businesses look back on it as an expensive mistake that didn’t work? If you own a moderate size burger restaurant and a Flippy please holla.

Finding Wally

“The meaning of life is not simply to exist, and to survive, but to move ahead, to go up, to achieve, and to conquer.”

Thank you, Google for that quote. One of life’s simple pleasures is finding Wally (or Waldo). In finding Wally, the thrill is in the chase. In a light-hearted attempt to ruin the fun, someone has invented an AI Wally finder. Fortunately, this is where Wally’s cheat code cannot be bought, which is nice. If this was a product you could buy, I would be incredulous, but I think that this is a fun idea in its current form.

Conclusion: Personally, I’ll stick to the audio book (skip to 6:00 to find Wally). Much more enjoyable.

As you can see, these examples are little more than non-AI-related tech and clever marketing, but while you’re here…let’s talk about some seriously cool applications of AI doing some undeniable good around the world.

Kick arse and for-good AI

Amazon Rainforest Deforestation Monitoring

At 3SC, we are passionate about stopping deforestation, so much so we built a product to help fight it.

AI has entered the chat in this fight now, with a team-up between Microsoft and Amazon who have combined to create a program where you input aerial photographs taken on different dates and it can work out where deforestation has happened for you.

Conclusion: This is a fantastic innovation and undeniable application of AI in the deforestation movement and could revolutionise the way that monitoring happens, which is manually currently, relying on locals to go and check areas they know. This removes the people from the equation, using satellite imagery and a computer program instead for instant and real-time results.

Deforestation App Satelite Image
Image of deforestation in Brazil taken using the GFW partner’s satellite, Planet Labs.

AI-Assisted First Aid

Another Way AI is contributing to a better world is in the acute first aid space, where AI takes the fast-paced information gathering and output. Imagine watching Casualty (when it was on) and seeing someone getting wheeled from the ambulance to the hospital without the person trying to relay everything they could remember on the journey because the hospital team already knows everything about the patient and the situation thanks to AI.

Conclusion: This is something that we at 3 Sided Cube love to see. I wonder if one day, information input to our first aid apps could integrate with such a system. What a world that would be!

AI Disaster response

The number of disasters is projected to reach 560 a year – or 1.5 disasters a day – by 2030.

We’re all too familiar with waking up to news of the latest horrible disaster to be unleashed on humanity. The loss of life is an awful eventuality of this reality. But AI can help with that!

xView2 has been deployed in earthquake wreckage, wildfires, and flooding to successfully help workers on the ground be able to find areas that were damaged that they were unaware of. Every minute counts in a disaster and delayed arrival of search and rescue happens expedited and targeted with the help of xView2. Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency, the World Bank, the International Federation of the Red Cross, and the United Nations World Food Programme have all used the platform in response to the 2023 earthquake in Turkey.

AI is used by the algorithms employing a technique similar to object recognition, called “semantic segmentation,” which evaluates each individual pixel from 120 miles up in space of an image and its relationship to adjacent pixels to draw conclusions where to concentrate search and rescue efforts.


The code is open source and the program, free to use. This incredible piece of technology is out there to save lives and there’s no one sitting behind a giant desk, stroking a bald cat and counting their billions with each disaster that rolls in – it’s just out there doing good! It seems future disaster response and recovery efforts should always include xView2.

And that’s a wrap!

Although it’s fun to poke at questionable attempts to bring AI-related products to market, I think there’s a bigger question about when it is appropriate to use AI in product development. For this section, I am taking from this excellent article which suggests three questions to ask to analyse whether the implementation of AI is necessary, warranted or ethical.

The questions are as follows:

  • Will the proposed AI use most likely be no worse than current reasonable human analysis and decision-making?
  • Does the proposed AI use reflect reasonable efforts to eliminate inaccuracy and bias?
  • Is there a reasonable chance that if the AI use is allowed to evolve, it will become fairer and more accurate than human efforts?

In the case of bandwagon-driven quasi-AI products like those mentioned earlier, I hope the wave crests soon. In my opinion, they generally fail question 1 for being worse than human decision-making. What I hope for soon, is products being developed with substantial AI influence ethically, rather than shoehorning AI into the value proposition of a product just because it’ll sell more units.

Time will only tell – watch this space for all our AI experiments and endeavours!

Published on February 6, 2024, last updated on February 6, 2024

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