I can recall a time when the most primitive mobile phones were a marvelous addition to our lives, when computers became household products, moving from a binary DOS operating system to the colorful world of Windows and, today, an application-driven environment. Nowadays, most innovations focus on bridging the gap between an individual and the wider world, improving processes and making our lives easier and more efficient. Look at the latest developments in smartphone capabilities, for example, or the recent emergence of smart tables, fridges and microwaves. Another development is the rise of the on-demand economy. Consumers have evolved and now expect more from technology and brands in terms of convenience and comfort.
Today, we are stepping into a world where humans depend on AI for multiple purposes. A good example of this is the rise in popularity of virtual personal assistants (VPAs). Although AI is already present in our lives, companies like Microsoft, IBM, Google, Qualcomm and even Facebook are investing heavily in the future of the technology. Every day, scientists are moving forward, developing neural networks that can perform more and more cognitive tasks. This technology is not advancing linearly, but exponentially. Considering how much we have progressed in the past two decades, just imagine how much we will achieve by 2029 when machines will reach human-level intelligence, as Ray Kurzweil, inventor and director of engineering at Google puts it.
To some, it may sound scary. The loss of control is indeed terrifying, but that’s only the dimension Hollywood has chosen to depict. AI does not necessarily mean that the Terminator or Ex Machina scenarios will become a reality. In fact, if you need to use popular culture references, think of NARS, the robot from Interstellar, as the physical manifestation of AI. Rather than just stereotypical robots, we’re referring to massive neural networks that operate like the human brain, but to the power of ten. This technology will enlarge our knowledge base, enhance our capabilities, increase efficiencies and improve the effectiveness of everything we do. In the AI age, sentient machines will be our fellow masterminds and inventors, helping us transform and explore beyond the capabilities of our own intelligence. Remember the old adage, “two brains are better than one”? In this case, it may very well be ten or even more.
AI is already transforming industries, particularly marketing and advertising. Programmatic media relies on technology to make decisions more rapidly than we are physically capable of. We would never be able to deliver relevant content in real time to consumers without the aid of machine learning. More advanced uses of AI will rely on ever-more-powerful algorithms to perform, for example, millions of trading decisions every single minute. As we gather more insights about consumers in real time, we will be able to target them more intimately and focus on high-value/potential/propensity customers to maximize efficiency. The invaluable benefits that AI has already brought to today’s advertising practices – including creative versioning for outdoor billboards, the creation of content based on contextual analysis engines on social media and improved designs from the results of multivariate testing, carried out in real time – are the reason why this industry will be one of the first to see AI’s mainstream uses.
Eventually, consumers will benefit, as advertising is about to become much more personalized and targeted. In an AI-driven world, you will no longer have to make brand decisions or be bombarded with ads for irrelevant products. Our VPAs will only inform us of promotions on products we’re already researching, particularly for brands and personal specifications we have indicated an interest in. Our assistants will screen and let the relevant messages through, based on what they have learned about us. Therefore, advertisers will not only have to influence consumers directly, but also their VPAs, using native algorithm-driven messaging and biddable ad models. Our dominant purchase behavior will eventually impact all product categories, as we enter a phase of preemptive marketing. Individuals will be algorithmically identified as high-potential based on behavior patterns. The role of classic mass brand communications will be to get through to people by inducing sentiments and evoking conversations that can ultimately influence our VPAs’ ever-changing algorithms.
Marketers will have to embrace platforms that scour through consumers’ conversations and transact with them in order to place their products in consumers’ lives. As Sir Tim Berners-Lee has stated, businesses will need to contribute raw data to the “tagged-up” world in order to compete for the attention of sentient machines making purchases on consumers’ behalf. This is, after all, what will provide the paychecks for VPAs, which will serve ads natively to consumers in exchange for providing services for free.
All these tasks fall in line with the larger purpose of AI: to free us from the clutter of information and allow us to focus more on the constructive elements of our jobs and lives.