Artificial Intelligence – Friend or Foe?

Digital Marketing

In a recent inter­view, I was asked about the rapid improve­ments in arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence (AI), and whether or not they pose a sig­nif­i­cant threat to jobs in mar­ket­ing, and indeed, the wider work­force.

To offer a log­i­cal response, we have to under­stand what we’re dis­cussing and why.

A trun­cat­ed, work­ing def­i­n­i­tion of AI would be the automa­tion of process­es via machines able to per­form cog­ni­tive tasks that were once per­formed by a human. Exam­ples include com­put­ers built to defeat chess cham­pi­ons, oper­ate vehi­cles, and per­form spe­cif­ic, repet­i­tive tasks. By no means does the term refer to an omnipo­tent, omnipresent, ful­ly self-aware machine. Not yet any­way.

Why has AI regained pop­u­lar­i­ty sud­den­ly even though the con­cept has been in exis­tence since 1956? The Econ­o­mist gives a very suc­cinct answer in this arti­cle: . In sum­ma­ry, a per­fect storm has been cre­at­ed through the com­bi­na­tion of train­ing an AI sys­tem via deep learn­ing method­ol­o­gy, easy avail­abil­i­ty of large swathes of data (doc­u­ments, images, videos), and acces­si­ble com­put­ing prowess that’s afford­able.

Giv­en the rel­a­tive­ly recent his­to­ry of AI, it’s easy to see why that jour­nal­ist, many lead­ing intel­lec­tu­als, and mil­lions of work­ers har­bour a fear that AI might replace a large chunk of the work­force. We needn’t look fur­ther than the Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion to see how advances in machin­ery and tech­nol­o­gy can ren­der human input obso­lete. Where once skilled hands ran tex­tile mills, and the sweat of labour­ers pro­pelled farm­ing equip­ment, now machines do — nev­er tir­ing, nev­er falling ill, and nev­er tak­ing a hol­i­day. Accord­ing to the McK­in­sey Glob­al Insti­tute, AI is trans­form­ing soci­ety at “rough­ly 3000 times the impact” of the Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion, plac­ing us on the crest of a new wave of tech­no­log­i­cal advance­ment.

Clear­ly, that’s a pre­dic­tion not lost on investors and star­tups. In 2015, $8.5 bil­lion was spent on AI, almost quadru­ple the fig­ure in 2010. They antic­i­pate huge, sus­tained growth in the space, with appli­ca­tions as far reach­ing as video games, med­i­cine, and the arts.

Let’s not be naive. Jobs were lost then, and many will be lost now. It’s the nature of advance­ment. What most dooms­day­ers and naysay­ers neglect to men­tion is this; inno­va­tion in AI opens up new worlds of pos­si­bil­i­ty, lead­ing to entire new economies that busi­ness­es and work­ers can tran­si­tion to. To high­light this, we can look at the issue in micro­cosm through the lens of Pho­tog­ra­phy. 

In days gone by, film pho­tog­ra­phy was a slow process, one that required much human input before a pho­tog­ra­ph­er could see her fin­ished work. Between order­ing film, shoot­ing, then send­ing the work to a spe­cial­ist for print­ing, there were jobs before, dur­ing, and after the shut­ter clicked. When dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy arrived, many of these were lost. The cam­era itself was full of AI, from auto-focus and aper­ture set­tings to facial recog­ni­tion, image pro­cess­ing, and white bal­ance adjust­ments. After shoot­ing, the images could be uploaded to a com­put­er, and print­ed from the com­fort of your own home.

At first glance, we could lament the loss of jobs. Some­where, a dark­room tech­ni­cian and film expert were now unem­ployed, won­der­ing where their next payslip would come from. How­ev­er, dig­i­tal advance­ments in pho­tog­ra­phy didn’t result in a net loss of jobs. Quite the oppo­site, in fact.

Edit­ing soft­ware sprung up. New­er cam­eras arrived that could shoot video as well as stills. Web­sites were devel­oped by the hun­dred that allowed pho­tog­ra­phers to sell their cre­ative to peo­ple around the world. The growth in the pho­tog­ra­phy indus­try was incred­i­ble, part­ly thanks to inno­va­tions in imag­ing relat­ed AI. What’s more, it pushed the bound­aries of qual­i­ty, acces­si­bil­i­ty and most impor­tant­ly, cre­ativ­i­ty. Now, any­one can buy a cam­era, shoot, and edit beau­ti­ful work. The result is a pro­ject­ed $82.5 bil­lion indus­try in 2016, up 3.8% from last year*. That fig­ure is made up of cam­era and lens hard­ware, print­ers and pro­cess­ing equip­ment, and dig­i­tal com­ple­men­tary prod­ucts. Thir­ty years ago, these economies were non-exis­tent.

In most cas­es, AI presents oppor­tu­ni­ty, not loss. As inno­va­tions devel­op, we can stay astride them, broad­en­ing our skill sets by har­ness­ing that intel­li­gence, not cow­er­ing from it. The appli­ca­tions are broad and var­ied, but here are a few to paint the pic­ture:

  • Sur­geons and med­ical pro­fes­sion­als could leave menial tasks and some diag­noses to machines capa­ble of deep learn­ing (spot­ting pat­terns through assim­i­lat­ing large amounts of data), less­en­ing human error, and free­ing them to focus on pro­vid­ing excel­lent care to their patients.
  • Inno­va­tions in art and graph­ic design offer new can­vass­es, but still require the artist’s vision and pas­sion.
  • Video games plug-in AI to boost real­ism all the time, from non-playable char­ac­ters act­ing in a cer­tain way to respon­sive mechan­ics that change accord­ing to stim­uli like fatigue and weath­er. The indus­try will still require humans to use those pos­si­bil­i­ties to devel­op com­pelling, inter­est­ing games.
  • Cus­tomer expe­ri­ence relat­ed appli­ca­tions are par­tic­u­lar­ly per­ti­nent to us as mar­keters. We can build mass per­son­al­i­sa­tion — con­tent curat­ed via AI for indi­vid­ual con­sumers. While machines crunch the data, it still falls to us to apply those find­ings. If you are intrigued what the future might hold for cus­tomer expe­ri­ence read this report: The Future Of Expe­ri­ence

Our first instinct may be to wor­ry that these exam­ples line the road to human input becom­ing unnec­es­sary. Rather, we ought to treat them as an incred­i­ble oppor­tu­ni­ty, not just in terms of new career paths and emerg­ing economies to take advan­tage of, but in terms of the good they can bring to the world.

Back to that cam­era exam­ple. A key dif­fer­en­tia­tor between humans and machines is this; AI can help take good pho­tographs, but it can’t make them. It can’t har­vest emo­tion and mean­ing from the world around us. For now, that’s a plea­sure reserved for humans. All human inter­ac­tion is built on a foun­da­tion of social skills and adap­tive, out­side the box think­ing, along with appli­ca­tion of that think­ing. That’ll always be required, whether it’s in busi­ness, med­i­cine, or the arts. Until we have a full, gen­er­al AI on our hands, we, as humans and work­ing pro­fes­sion­als, are the ben­e­fi­cia­ries.

I don’t expect that this short arti­cle will answer all the socio-eco­nom­ic, tech­no­log­i­cal and polit­i­cal ques­tions that AI can raise. How­ev­er I hope that the frame­work of think­ing in terms of film pho­tog­ra­phy vs dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy might pro­vide addi­tion­al vocab­u­lary for exec­u­tives to artic­u­late the poten­tial impact of this excit­ing tech­no­log­i­cal devel­op­ment.

Digital Marketing
Vijayanta Gupta

Posted on 07-19-2016

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