IBM chief digital officer Bob Lord discussed how AI and machine learning, which he described as “the most exciting innovations of the digital era”, should be used to transform industries in the opening keynotesession at DMexco17 in Cologne.


According to Lord, creativity has until now always been uniquely human, but creative thinkers are exponentially enhancing how they create and innovate with the help of cognitive systems like IBM Watson.

Augmented intelligence, which combines the genius of man and machine, has the potential to make a greater value exchange between brands and consumers, with Lord claiming that we are currently living in “the most transformative part of human history”.

“Not since the advent of the PC or iPhone have we been confronted with an environment which altered so much that preceded it,” he added. “This deluge of unstructured and structured data has become the world’s new natural resource and this new environment demands new ways of thinking and working.”

The audience agreed that we are zooming past the age of information and into the age of insight, with the ramifications of a prior decision on whether to go digital being the fault line of success and failure.


The complex, nuanced relationship between AI and humans

It’s been less than a century since we evolved from the programmable era of telling computers what to do into the cognitive era, where tech can learn at scale and reason with a purpose, allowing the crunching of data in the blink of an eye.

Lord showed examples of Watson beating champions on the gameshow Jeopardy in 2011, demonstrating reasoning and an understanding of natural language, leaving even the gameshow host in shock. However, these days it can comprehend 800 words per second, not to mention context of language, tone, personality and emotion, as well as describing the contents of an image.

This intelligence can be applied to a range of scenarios – driving, healthcare, taxes – but perhaps more surprisingly, technology is now acting as a stimulus and muse to artists, including music producer Alex Da Kid whose cognitive song, inspired by the emotional state of the world, hit the top 10 in a billboard chart. With augmented intelligence now augmenting the creative process, Lord thanked Alex for going out on a limb: “Creativity is the main ingredient for any successful campaign and therefore successful business.”


Status Quo is a thing of the past

With business models innovating faster than anything that could have been imagined before, what was done a year ago is no longer sustainable.

Lord asked “What if we could strengthen a brand’s value exchange through real time intelligent two-way conversations with the consumer. It’s our responsibility as an industry and the only way for the industry to survive; I strongly believe we can do that with AI and shame on us if we don’t.”

In order to do this, IBM has launched Watson Ads, working with companies like Campbell’s and Hellman’s, scratching the surface of what opportunities are available in the programmatic media world. On that note, Lord introduced “pioneer of programmatic media” Mediamath chief executive officer Joe Zawadzki to the stage to discuss the companies’ integration, which he described as “bordering on the magical”.

Zawadzki discussed how the partnership aimed to break down silos of data through a multichannel approach in a market fertile for machine learning. “Software is eating marketing,” said Zawadzki, “we need to make the infrastructure that connects brands and consumers bullet proof, open and extensible.”

Lord concluded by saying that, while there is a lot of work left to infuse AI and machine learning into the industry, a lot of “neck-up” work is currently being done to carry on the conversation, and the big idea is to get started and make progress for the next decade.