Robots have always held a certain intrigue, and perhaps even a sense of paranoia, until quite recently they were a largely fictitious entity and were constrained to merely traverse the pages of books and on screen. The rise of artificial intelligence, or AI, means that machine learning is becoming a part of everyday life with increasing frequency. AI technology is responsible for the tailored articles appearing on one’s Facebook feed, as well as the providing the foundations for Apple’s ‘Siri’ feature. Hubspot conducted a survey and found that 63% of respondents used artificial intelligence in their everyday lives, even if they weren’t aware.
AI and Content
For marketers, AI presents new opportunities and challenges; it can be used in both B2B and B2C marketing and allows for content to become more optimised, ensuring that consumers are shown only relevant suggestions. Speaking at the Gartner Symposium in 2015, Daryl Plummer predicted that by 2018, 20% of all business content will be authored by machines. But the question remains as to whether content that is created by machines can be as engaging and effective as content that is crafted by the human hand. Enter the Robot Journalist is a study that explored this, it found that readers were not able to distinguish between content that had been artificially created and that which had been written by a human. The study concluded, ‘Some aspects of quality, such as being clear and being pleasant to read, received a slightly higher score for human-written content, but others, such as trustworthiness, informative, and objective, were higher for the automated content.’ The results don’t make for particularly reassuring reading for those of us who fear AI usurpation, although robot colleagues would probably be less likely to hog all the office doughnuts or microwave fish in the communal microwave, so it might be worth the risk of an AI uprising.
Salesforce and Adobe both brought out AI platforms in 2016: ‘Einstein’ for Salesforce and ‘Sensei’ for Adobe; clearly themes of intelligence and teaching pervade in the naming of such platforms. Commenting, VP of product at Salesforce, said, ‘Companies today face an imperative to integrate AI into their products and services, or risk becoming less competitive with companies who are applying AI to improve customer experiences and make more intelligent business decisions.’ Certainly innovation plays a part in the adoption of AI, in a field such as marketing to be one step behind is to be ejected from the conversation. AI is experiencing such a boom at current that universities are suffering from ‘brain drain’ in which top AI researchers are jumping ship from academia to the private sector. The number of AI jobs in Britain has increased by an incredible 485% since 2014, according to data from Indeed. However, some argue that the hysteria surrounding AI is just hype, they point to the broad definition and large scale that it encompasses. The loose definition allows for the waters to be muddied with regards to what is and what isn’t AI; technology is being labelled thus in a bid to keep up with the competition.
Customer Service Chat
Companies are using AI technologies in their chat platforms; when online troubleshooting we often find ourselves helpfully assisted by faceless personalities called ‘Melissa’ or ‘Catherine’, however, in addition to being faceless, these helpers are also without a body or even independent thought: they are often bots. These algorithms are able to provide cost-effective customer service, facilitating a conversation and ensuring that companies really connect with their consumers. There is an increasing expectation of instantaneous service and these technologies are assisting in plugging the holes. AI technology is particularly helpful with regards to the processing and analysis of data; Henry Shuck, CEO of DiscoverOrg, comments, ‘Any part of the marketing world where a marketer has to read data and make decisions based on that data will be affected by AI in one way or another in the near future.’
The Risks of Robots
Of course the implementation of artificial intelligence comes with risks, as Microsoft unfortunately found out. They were hoisted by their own petard in 2016 when they trialled a chatbot called ‘Tay’, targeted towards millennials and programmed to resemble a teenage girl who would interact with users. The bot was designed to take signals from users; unfortunately, Microsoft did not take into account the proclivity that some internet inhabitants have towards maleficence and Tay was tweeting highly offensive messages within a day. It is clear that AI technology is susceptible to abuse and corruption, some are even concerned that it could be employed in authoritarian regimes. Often the technology is programmed with human bias, Microsoft’s Kate Crawford explained, ‘We should always be suspicious when machine learning systems are described as free from bias if it’s been trained on human-generated data… Our biases are built into that training data.’
Artificial intelligence has progressed in leaps and bounds in recent years and its advent presents huge potential for marketers. In an industry, and indeed a world, driven by innovation it seems that AI and marketing will only become more integrated. So here’s to the start of a long and fruitful partnership, mind you, McKinsey has helpfully provided a graph depicting the automation potential for jobs and wages, so it might just be worth keeping half an eye open…