AI and Robots Aren’t About to Take Over the World, Yet

The concept of Artificial Intelligence (AI) – especially in the form of humanoid robots – is by no means a new phenomenon, with intelligent machines appearing on our screens as early as 1984.

Modern AI systems exist under the guise of hardware and software, which is embedded into everyday systems to help streamline and improve the quality of our lives. As a result, the idea of androids walking the streets and taking our jobs has turned from futuristic fantasy to imminent reality, especially with companies such as PwC appointing dedicated Artificial Intelligence Leaders, and predicting robots will replace 30% of UK jobs by 2030.

The global, sensationally named “Stop Killer Robots” campaign against anti-autonomous weapons; coupled with the EU’s calls for all robots to be registered, have only added fuel to the media frenzy. Meanwhile, Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking recently intimated that AI will spiral out of control and could even “spell the end of the human race”.

Among marketers there is also a sense of uncertainty, with many fearing that AI technology embedded in marketing software systems will soon fulfil every marketing function from creative design to campaign measurement. But has the hype around AI gone one step too far? Are we really on the brink of a rise-of-the-machines takeover, or should we view intelligent technology as a means to improve our marketing efforts and build a better relationship with consumers?

The sheer volume of real-time data available today is inevitably leading marketers to think about how they can apply machine-learning technologies to their marketing operations. But while it is true that robots are rapidly emerging as more than humble workplace assistants – proving their worth through the ability to analyse billions of terabytes of customer data within a matter of nanoseconds – it is important to remember that machines are not yet capable of everyday tasks.

The intelligence of current AI systems is still very limited in contrast to humans, and expertise lies in narrow, repetitive areas – such as gaming. Humans and robots are currently only able to perform complementary roles and it is becoming clear that one simply cannot function effectively without the other. Therefore, instead of fearing machines that can perpetually extend their skillset and demonstrate unrivalled levels of productivity, these technological advances should be seen as a valuable addition to the marketing toolkit rather than a threat to human existence.

AI systems have already become an intrinsic part of the customer journey, with consumers increasingly using augmented reality and smart assistants to enrich interactions with their favourite brands on a daily basis. In turn, marketers should make the most of ever-evolving smart “machines” – which can be used to connect the dots between multichannel, cross–screen touchpoints – to enable them to build better relationships with customers while focusing their energy on highly skilled tasks such as developing innovative creatives and honing their campaign optimisation strategy.

At a deeper level, developing a practical, entirely AI-based system is an extremely complex task. Firstly, it requires the development of advanced software systems that embed state-of-art machine learning techniques, statistical analysis and knowledge engineering than currently exist and require human tuning. Secondly, development of these next-generation technologies requires skilled interdisciplinary teams that are difficult to build. For the moment at least, no enterprise has successfully built and deployed an intelligent, fully automated, end-to-end marketing system.

Until now, advances in marketing technology – arising from an ever-increasing proliferation of data – have been funded by a single revenue generator: advertising. But as the digital ecosystem evolves and cycle times for campaigns and such become shorter, fragmented and large datasets will make it difficult for marketers to execute effective strategies within real-world environments without enabling AI systems which complement the marketers’ tasks.

So how can marketers make the best use of AI today? Although we are only scraping the surface, the potential for marketing applications utilising intelligent technologies is huge – including audience planning, campaign execution and optimisation, insight generation from advanced analytics, and the development of cutting-edge CRM systems incorporating chatbots to create a more unified and personalised user experience. Agencies and trading desks can also utilise AI to assist with pre- and post-campaign data collection across multiple channels in real-time, to improve optimisation throughout.

Despite the negative associations brought about by scaremongers – who insist on personifying robots and portraying them as powerful humanoid entities who will take over the world – these are exciting times for marketers, who should embrace the AI assistance they need without fearing for their jobs.

Intelligent systems only learn what we as humans instruct and train them to learn. Instead of being swept along by the hype, now is the best time for marketers to trial AI technologies before deciding how best to fully incorporate them into their marketing operations.

Also published in Digital Marketing Magazine.