This story was first published by Forbes.

The following article was written by Will Wiseman, president of strategy and planning, PHD US and a co-author of Sentience: The Coming AI Revolution and the Implications for Marketing.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is here today, and getting smarter every year. With both computing power and data collection increasing exponentially, our machines are gaining on us. Within just over a decade from now they will be far more intelligent than we are.

But will these machines actually be sentient? They will certainly appear sentient. Over time we’ll develop relationships with them. Business relationships. Personal relationships. Emotional relationships that, even if they’re not reciprocated, will feel very real to us.

It’s time to start thinking about what this means, both for our lives and, yes, for marketing.

For while AI heretofore primarily has been the domain of academics and large internet companies, it’s starting to trickle down into the consumer sphere, and that’s where the most noticeable applications will present themselves. Those applications will be largely ad-supported, meaning that marketing will be one of the first disciplines disrupted by AI.

The potential benefits for brands that embrace AI are huge. A big area of focus will be the development of the technology underpinning virtual personal assistants (VPAs). At the moment they are quite basic—Cortana, Siri or Google Now being examples—but they are improving dramatically. Within three to seven years we are likely to have unrecognizably more powerful systems that will start to make purchase decisions and purchases for us.

Benefits for brands can span across a raft of marketing functions, from enhancing customer experiences right through to delivering superior planning and buying of advertising campaigns.

With sentient VPAs making many of our purchasing choices for us, brands will have to adapt. Instead of marketing directly to consumers, brands will have to market to algorithms.

So what can marketers do in the short term to better equip themselves for this AI revolution?

1. Optimizing to the machine will be the greatest determinant of success. Ensuring that the current disciplines of SEO, PPC and programmatic buying are being embraced and upskilled now will help in the future as these will be the most transferable skills to new AI models.

2. Brands that effectively build marketing stacks – namely plugging together the critical elements of their marcoms eco-systems such as data partners, agency suppliers and off line channels – will be best placed to quickly take advantage of the potential of AI.

3. Similar to the world of search engine optimization, the AI era will make it necessary for products to have “tagged” information. This will include not just name and price, but also the essential ingredients, where they were produced and under what environmental and ethical conditions, and how far it was shipped, all so that our VPAs can make informed decisions on our behalf. This “tagged-up world” will be a vital part of how brands optimise their offerings for the age of the sentient VPA.  Marketers will need to think hard about what types of product data to tag-up, and what types of offers make the most sense in different contexts.

4. Maintaining positive brand sentiment will be crucial. Feedback from other customers will be one of the most important signals that sentient VPAs look at when deciding whether to recommend a product to you. That means selling high-quality products will be more important than ever.

5. Advertisers will need to future proof the way they use customer data. Current re-targeting methods allow for a consumer to be plagued by ads for a product that they might have already bought from another retailer or on another device, but this will become an out dated model. Better uses of more complete data sets will ensure targeting doesn’t become an irritant as advertisers become smarter and more responsible in the ways they create their target audiences. AI will mean there might be fewer messages seen, but the ones that do get seen will have been selected based on extremely specific purchasing and behavioral data about you, and therefore much more influential.

AI will radically change what we do, and create huge new challenges for brands in reaching consumers. But even if our messages will reach fewer people, they will, in the future, reach only the right people. Marketing will become more effective for brands, and less annoying and intrusive for customers.

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