This article was first published on Mumbrella.
Imagine sitting in an agency and planning communications alongside a partner who knew everything that had ever been written about marketing and communications. A partner who knew inside out every Admap article, every econometric and attribution model, every IPA and WARC paper, as well as every Mintel, nVision or Euromonitor report ever published. Imagine that conversation. Imagine the product that conversation would produce.
At some point in the future, deep-learning Artificially-Intelligent algorithms are going to enable that conversation – a conversation that will be more comprehensive, more empirical and more objective than most of us can imagine.
This future is inevitable. We are predestined by the technology emerging around us to live and work in that future-world. We will meet and work with that AI planning partner. But what’s also inevitable is that the thought of this predestination induces some anxiety about the role humans will come to play. The fear is that if software isn’t already eating our jobs, then it soon will.
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that we should be nervous. Barely a week goes by without an AI-fuelled development in our industry. Take for example Albert, the creation of digital marketing company Algorithms. Albert is an AI platform designed to make digital media decisions on behalf of brands. One of Albert’s human clients, the president of Harley-Davidson NYC, Asaf Jacobi, recently observed that “we don’t add rules about when to send things out or what audience segments should get what messages at what time of day, or even what headlines to pair with what creative. That’s the self-learning part … [Albert] begins going to work to meet our goals, processing thousands of events in seconds. He knows better what to do than we do”.
So far so better programmatically optimised, but it’s not just in the automated transactional space that AI is making advances. In areas one might have considered safe space for uniquely human endeavour, AI is encroaching on our turf. An AI creative director at McCann Erickson Japan has taken on acclaimed TV writer Mitsuru Kuramoto to create a 30-second ad for Clorets. This year at Cannes, Google won an Innovation Lion for its human-beating AlphaGo and JWT’s ‘The Next Rembrandt’ took two grands prix in Cyber and Creative Data for teaching an AI to paint like the Dutch master. The metal has already begun to flow to AI.
If everything is eventually destined to become software, what’s to become of us?
Well, there is still reason aplenty to be cheerful. Because whilst that conversation with an AI mind may be inevitable, it will also represent a huge leap forward in planning. For a start, the amount of information available will be almost inconceivable. You’ll be having a conversation with everything ever written about marketing – let alone the sum total of human knowledge. The evolution of the internet will be from a collection of links, through the emergence of networks and then platforms… to a single voice. Oracle doesn’t even begin to do it justice.
It’s not only a conversation that will be more comprehensive and informed, but one that will thrive on new levels of empiricism and objectivity. We’ll be better planners – and our recommendations more robust – as a result. Less of the subjective free-wheeling where we sell an (albeit informed) opinion to a client, and more of an empirically robust, objective and consultative role.
Finally, whole new jobs will emerge. For example, strategic technologists will be needed to construct and maintain reinforcement-learning marketing engines, and expertise will be required to devise whole new kinds of technology stacks. With disruption – and we will be disrupted – comes new opportunities. As journalist and author Kevin Kelly rather insightfully puts it: “This is not a race against the machines. If we race against them, we lose. This is a race with the machines. You’ll be paid in the future based on how well you work with robots… [Robots] will help us discover new jobs for ourselves, new tasks that expand who we are. They will let us focus on becoming more human than we were.”
It was also Kelly that made the astute observation that AI will be like electricity. Everything will be cognified and made better as a result – just like we made everything better by adding electricity. And that’s why the day you have that inevitable predestined conversation with an AI, you will no more switch it off than you would switch off the lightbulb. You’d be working in the dark.
Chris Stephenson is head of strategy and planning for PHD across APAC