I recently had a thought-provoking lunch with Byron Reese on the topic of his newest book, artificial intelligence (AI). Because they seem to be used interchangeably, I asked him whether there is a difference between AI and algorithms, because I have more of an issue with the latter than the former – in concept at least. My thinking runs to a working definition of AI that involves its ability to create revolutionary new things, not just evolve old things into the next generation things. Would either ever have put bacon on the maple log donut?
Now I’ll admit upfront that I’m a fan of the cautionary tale told in Cathy O’Neill’s “Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy,” which is that we are all too willing to assign authority to equations whose logical structure and assumptions we know very little about. But those are algorithms, right? Not AI? Or are they?
Byron pointed out that there is no really good definition of AI and that at its most rudimentary instance, algorithms can be considered AI. That brings me back to bacon and donuts because what goes in, the inherent biases of the programmers, determines the outcomes. Case in point, look at the difficulty some facial recognition programs have with different races (e.g., they are significantly more accurate with Caucasians).
So what does this have to do with marketing? A lot. AdTech, programmatic, and computer-generated “creative” are some of my flashpoints – as well as catchall phrases for behavior that is a lot like the industry’s previous flight it and forget it mentality. Once an algorithm is blessed, there is little sense that it course corrects other than getting better than where it started.
As marketing becomes omnipresent (for better or for worse), actually connecting in a meaningful way with customers gets harder and harder. Think of NASCAR. How many logos does anyone actually see? Connecting brands and customers is no longer just about being there. It is about recognizing each other as likely partners. And we all know how well the dating site algorithms do at predicting THAT little chemistry challenge.
“Robots and artificial intelligence will change the world,” Byron says, “empowering humans to be more productive and live better lives. We will use these technologies to end disease, hunger, and poverty.”
In other words, they should be tools to better life, to allow more time for thinking, feeling, and creating revolutionary solutions rather than evolutions. In marketing, as in life, we should be using our new tools rather than being dictated by them.
Hear that HAL?