Are We All Going to Die?

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence and the marketing industry.

In the tradition of things that are absolutely terrifying to ponder, philosopher Nick Bostrum’s thought experiment “The Paper Clip Maximizer” warns, with a little hyperbole, about the dangers of artificial intelligence (AI). That is if you consider the complete annihilation of mankind to be a “danger.” What Bostrum details in his scenario is a world where humans develop AI with one purpose: creating paper clips. The problem it raises is this: When AI is given even a mundane task and left unchecked, (keeping AI in check is another thing — see here), so singularly focused on its menial task that humans will be swept up in the process. In this case, it means paperclip production, and “swept up” actually means forced into the grueling production of paperclips, the simple means to an end.

Or, it could be worse. We could be viewed as wasted resources — our atoms, specifically — could be used for, you guessed it, paperclips. So fewer humans, if any, and lots and lots of paperclips — goodbye, cruel, metallic, paper-organizing world!

But let’s step back from the paperclip apocalypse and focus on the world we know or, at least, tolerate. AI is not new and it hasn’t killed us all (yet) so, naturally, marketers have added AI to their consumer targeting strategies. Here’s a look at how advertising uses AI and what the trends are going forward. Hint: Humans are not repurposed into paper clips.

AI isn’t what we’re striving for — it’s what we’re living with.

Here’s a scenario that most of us are familiar with: Let’s say you’re doing some online shopping for new pajamas and then you go to Facebook to wish your nana a happy birthday and — bam — the pajamas you were just looking at are right there. Then, later in the day, you see the pajamas on Instagram and, then, like every website you visit. Familiar? Of course it is. Our initial impulse when this tactic was first introduced, and rightfully so, may have been to view these ads as intrusive and stalker-ish but the practice is so commonplace these days, many of us don’t think twice about the ads. And, for what it’s worth, the digital content we encounter is actually tailored to each of us. (okay… it’s still a little creepish).

Even when we’re being careful, it’s difficult to avoid leaving a trail of information that provides insight into our buying habits, interests and, dare I say, desires. AI and machine learning (a type of AI) analyzes this data and sends you content that’s related to your searches and page recommendations. If nothing else, this practice provides us with more relevant advertisements which can be preferable to random spray and pray campaigns — unless you love a little whimsy at the hands of capricious mad men.

What we can expect

More and more frequently, almost daily in fact, articles pop up on the internet discussing the next evolution of AI in our lives. Whether it’s the future of medicine, culinary breakthroughs or human resources management, AI is clearly expanding (and will continue until it turns us into paperclips) across all industries and fields. We’ve seen the benefit (and potential red flags) of AI in marketing in the form of personalized content. As AI evolves and marketers continue to adopt the practice, some of the future advertising efforts we are going to see include:

Predictive intelligence — This is the ability to provide or “predict” what consumers will want next, but in real time. Did you just buy peanut butter, because, thanks to data collection, you’re going to get a sweet deal on some jelly real soon (you get the point). This allows companies to be more proactive in their marketing efforts. Early adopters have already reported an increase in ROI… and when there’s money to be made, someone (er, everyone) is going to do it.

Enhanced customer interactions — Utilizing customer behavior patterns, chatbots will be able to build stronger relationships with customers through more positive interactions, including natural language processing (NLP) and by implementing stronger keywords. These improved chatbots can will work faster and more efficiently — and around the clock — to provide strong customer service that’s personalized and quicker than dealing with a human (Oh, the humanity!).

What could go wrong? Well…

Assuming you didn’t sleep through 2018 (or 2017… or 2016), we can go ahead and acknowledge that this sort of data mining and use of AI has a clear downside (we’re looking at you, Zuckerberg!). Privacy considerations aside, the use of AI in marketing raises some ethical questions and some serious red flags. Companies harvest staggering amounts of data from consumers and leverage that information in a way that affects our purchasing behaviors. Big deal, some say. That’s just advertising. Fair enough.

But now consider this scenario presented in AdAge: “What if you also knew that a consumer was deep in debt and lacked impulse control, had multiple moving violations, and had a history of drug and alcohol abuse? Is it still okay to market a fast car to this person, in a way that would make it nearly irresistible?”

Examples like this one shade the ethical considerations around AI and targeted ads because both are used to influence consumers. Most people know that advertising is a multi-billion dollar industry honed in on selling and promoting products to consumers — nothing earth-shattering there. But what if the industry was using specific data to target an individual’s vulnerabilities — well, more directly and with greater precision than what’s already happening — to sell them a product? What if it’s a product that can cause them harm or cause them to harm others? Obviously, people are responsible for their own decisions, but a little AI nudge to the wrong person at the right time can have serious consequences.

There’s a moral here, isn’t there?

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, it’s often forgotten that the monster’s name wasn’t Frankenstein; Dr. Frankenstein created the monster, a being who, in turn, wanted to kill Dr. Frankenstein, his creator. Creator’s remorse? Maybe. And, sure, having AI recommend tortilla chips when we buy queso isn’t an imminent threat to our survival as a species or an act of vengeance (unless AI is playing a high calorie long game). It is worth noting how — and why — AI is being used in marketing, for both good and horrifying reasons, especially if you’re in the industry and interested in the ripple effect of certain tactics and strategies, even if AI is still an inexact science.

Need help understanding AI or maybe you want some help with some basic audience personas? We’re here to help!

Check out these related blog posts:

I’m a Thought Leader… I Think?
2019 Is the Year of Voice Search. Is Your Brand Ready?
Night of the Living Chatbots

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