I, robot

The robots may one day fulfil dystopian science fiction visions and take over the human race, but that day is still far in the future - in the meantime, marketers and communicators are working out how AI can be effectively utilized in their world.

AI such as that demonstrated in the film I, Robot is not ready to take over just yet.
AI such as that demonstrated in the film I, Robot is not ready to take over just yet.

One of the biggest topics at the Cannes Festival of Creativity in the south of France this year was AI, or artificial intelligence, which was a ubiquitous topic on La Croisette.

But I wonder how far down the road we really are when it comes to genuine activations involving PR and marketing, and how much is just hype and bluster.

Watson is certainly leading the AI charge over at IBM and there are a number of other interesting developments in businesses involving AI, especially in the field of customer service and e-commerce optimization.

But when you dig beneath the surface and try to find some real-life marketing case studies to bring the hypothesis to life, which PRWeek has been doing for a cover feature we are running in October, there’s not so much out there.

I remember the endless "this is the year of mobile" conversations in the early 2000s when soothsayers looked forward to the future of communications, and it feels a little like that. The reality is taking a while to catch up with the hype.

One difference is that the rise of AI isn’t constrained by the lack of bandwidth that held back the rollout of mobile. The computer processing power is all there – humans just need to work out how to best deploy it.

Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics as portrayed in his 1950 book I, Robot, which was made into a film in 2004 starring Will Smith, are as follows:

A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

All very noble objectives, and we shall see how they play out in the future - if we haven’t all been blown up in a nuclear war with North Korea before then.

Science fiction is full of dystopian visions of a future where those laws fall apart and the robots take over, one of my favorite examples being 2015’s excellent Alex Garland film Ex Machina.

This theme came up again a couple of weeks ago when reports emerged of bots in Facebook’s AI lab developing their own language and supposedly causing engineers to end an experiment in panic.

The reality was actually somewhat less radical: bots have developed their own languages for years - the problem was Facebook wanted them to develop in English, but this was beyond the capability of these machines.

Rather than taking over, the robots were actually not intelligent enough - hence the engineers pulling the plug.

But the robots are coming and there is no escaping them. The trick is going to be to augment the artificial intelligence with human insights and qualities, rather than relying on technology alone.

In the old days marketers would glibly follow John Wanamaker’s lead and say 50% of their advertising is wasted, they just didn’t know which half.

That is no longer the case. Advertisers know exactly which parts of their investment are paying dividends and they are narrowing down their spend accordingly to focus on the most effective channels

That’s why the biggest marketer in the world, Procter & Gamble, is spending less globally on advertising than it has for 11 years, due in part to a significant cut of $140 million in digital outlay between April and June 2017.

P&G CFO Jon Moeller said the CPG giant will slash $1.5 billion from its marketing budgets over the next five years. Most other brands are cutting their marketing and other spends to make themselves leaner and meaner.

AI is certainly going to play a big part in making that spend more efficient – but it is still extremely early days in that process for the time being.

However, it behooves every communicator or marketer to be preparing for what AI can offer now, because it is completely changing the world we live in. Check out our feature in October for all the must-know information you need to know about AI.

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