Article

Giovanni Strocchi
Giovanni Strocchi 22 May 2017

Demystifying Artificial Intelligence

The opportunities of AI stretch far beyond simplifying routine tasks, and in marketing tech ecosystems particularly, we are already experiencing how smart technology can complement rather than detract from digital operations. So why should marketers embrace – not fear – AI?

Mention the concept of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and for many, negative connotations – such as robots that are intent on taking over the world – immediately spring to mind. And with reports suggesting that almost a third of UK jobs could be at risk of becoming automated over the next couple of decades, it is understandable that tensions are high.

Whereas no-one seems to take issue with the concept of the ‘Internet of Things’ – perceived as a wondrous new technology connecting household items to the online world – the very terms ‘artificial’, ‘machines’ that ‘learn’, or ‘android’, do little to help portray the benefits of AI. Despite the fact that AI is used to assist in everyday activities without many consumers realising, until it is accepted as a practical means of assisting human processes at scale – rather than a fantastical sci-fi phenomenon functioning at levels beyond human comprehension – confidence in AI as a technology is unlikely to grow.

In reality, the opportunities of AI stretch far beyond simplifying routine tasks, and in marketing tech ecosystems particularly, we are already experiencing how smart technology can complement rather than detract from digital operations. So why should marketers embrace – not fear – AI?

AI demystified

As humans, we tend to pigeon-hole unknown entities as magical; mystical; not part of the real world. The language used to describe AI in particular invokes fear in many as it is not completely understood. When considering marketing tools, the important thing to remember is that capabilities such as machine learning (or deep learning) – although vital for carrying out complex tasks in real time – do not equate to sentience. For example, AlphaGo, a gamebot designed by Google’s DeepMind, recently beat the world champion at the ancient Chinese board game, Go. While this was a major milestone in the world of AI, the machine completely lacked any sense of achievement, as it had no idea it had just beaten the world’s best human player.

In addition, although AI tools may be capable of performing tasks that humans cannot, at the same time they are unable to perform many tasks that a human brain can achieve with ease, and which are absolutely essential in the successful execution of a marketing campaign. In essence, robots are only able to achieve what they have been programmed to do – by humans. Therefore, AI will never completely replace human input, only enhance the productivity of marketing efforts through the sheer speed and scale of their processing ability.

Let’s explore a few real-life examples of how AI is assisting the marketing department, which should demonstrate the abilities – and indeed limitations – of intelligent technology.

Reaching targeted audiences

As every marketer will agree, first-party data is invaluable in gaining an accurate 360-degree view of your customer and a clear source of differentiation. AI tools have the ability to learn from real-time consumer interactions and build propensity profiles of the customers who are more ready to interact with your offering or message in that moment. This enables marketers to optimise their campaigns according to their customers’ personal preferences and tendencies, and enables far more precise targeting, compared to traditional methods of blanket or scattergun marketing, which ultimately serves to annoy the recipient of marketing messages.

Making the most of programmatic

Programmatic is great for facilitating dynamic, real-time advertising campaigns at scale, but even the best marketing campaigns can be susceptible to wider industry issues such as brand safety. Without publishers providing sufficient reassurances of an ad placement’s safety, brand reputation can be damaged in an instant if that ad happens to appear next to content that is unsuitable or politically misaligned.

AI semantic technologies, such as Natural Language Processing (NLP), are already being implemented to analyse on-page content and protect brands from potentially negative associations. NLP goes beyond simple keyword classifications and, much like a human brain, comprehends the semantic context of surrounding content to determine the suitability of a placement without error, reducing wasted impressions and maximising return on ad spend.

Cognitive technology can also be used to help identify potentially fake news – which is increasingly apparent in today’s media. And, although AI tools cannot be 100% sure of what might constitute fake news, tech giants such as Google and Facebook are already taking advantage of intelligent technology to flag up potentially suspicious content for further (human) review.

Strengthening the relationship between human and machine

Despite the fear that robots will one day assume control for all marketing operations, it is important to remember that humans have been using machines for years – ever since the first programmable computers were designed to carry out basic calculations in the 1930s and 1940s – to enable entrepreneurs to carry out their business at unprecedented scale.  

Similarly, implementing AI technology in the workplace in the twenty-first century should be seen as taking this opportunity one step further. It’s a chance for marketers to embrace economies of scale, leaving the “heavy lifting” of data tasks to machines, while focusing on the more subjective aspects of a campaign that a machine cannot achieve – such as developing overall messaging and planning.

AI can only truly enhance digital marketing efforts if a holistic approach is taken. And until machines can demonstrate sentient characteristics and actually have an opinion about their actions – something only possible if allowed by humans in the first place – there is nothing for marketers to fear and everything to gain.

Perceptions of AI are unlikely to change until marketers take it at face value. So, let’s not allow AI to be shrouded in mystery any longer, and start to appreciate it for what it is – a platform for complementing human processes and performing otherwise laborious, often incomprehensible tasks with efficiency and ease.

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