Artificial intelligence is bleeding further into our lives and work, Mike Teasdale considers the strategist in the age of AI.

What will be the impact of AI on the ad industry?

Tools like machine learning and natural language processing and image recognition could all act as a force for good by generating connections that spark better creative ideas or by replacing baseless conjecture with reliable information. But when combined with other disruptive technologies like the internet of things, big data analytics, cloud computing, and robotics, AI could reduce human input in the creative process (ultimately, to the level of bootloader for a digital super-intelligence).

Whatever your take on the future, one thing is certain: AI’s impact on the ad industry will grow. Evolution is an unstoppable force.

Data mining and analysis can already be done faster, quicker and better using AI. Algorithms are already replacing parts of the human creative process, especially the optimisation of creative assets at scale. For example, JP Morgan Chase has recently signed a five-year deal with a company called Persado after a trial showed machine-generated ads performing better than human-generated ones.

Programmatic media already makes good use of AI by enabling campaigns to learn from real-time results so that they funnel more investment towards areas that are performing better than others.

AI working in smart devices already make purchasing choices on our behalf via algorithms for demand forecasting and product search ranking and product recommendations. All this is not only evolving the way we consume but also the way we behave. It’s not hard to envisage 21st century consumerism eventually using AI to commercialise even those things that lie at the very core of what it means to be human, like relationships and beliefs and happiness.

What does this mean for the brands of tomorrow? Brands will still need to act as simplifiers of choice and as marks of trust and as statements of self-image, but they will need to be built in very different ways.

At the macro level, brands will need to be increasingly aware of their role in society, their purpose. When the world offers a multitude of channels you need a lodestar to help you navigate (and I don’t mean companies pretending to save the planet; I mean companies knowing why they exist and using that to drive all their actions).

At the micro level, brands will need to engage with the world differently. Increasingly, they are going to be selling not to irrational humans but to rational AI virtual assistants. And these AI virtual assistants will not only remove us consumers from the path to purchase, they will also remove the need for brands to push traditional emotional buttons via creativity. You can’t make an AI virtual assistant put you on its list of considered items by making it laugh or cry.

Increasingly, brands will need to accept that control is out of their hands because AI virtual assistants will want to co-create brands in the way that works best for them. That means brands will need to learn how to influence AI algorithms that limit choice or present only one choice or anticipate needs without human intervention, especially in low-involvement categories. 

And what will this mean for those of us working in creativity service provision? We will need to evolve the very nature of what we provide. Awareness-seeking creativity will no longer be enough; 21st century creativity service providers will need to create brand experiences that are connected and individualised.

In my own discipline, I can see the birth of centaur planning: wo/man plus machine in perfect harmony. A planner paired with an AI bot designed to learn and know you is a powerful prospect. As we shape the bot, it shapes us…

All this might sound scary, but in my view, humans will always have a role because while AI can help us understand what to do, only humans can tell us why. That’s the great thing about us dumb humans: we’re great at developing theories or working on hunches to explain why things are happening the way they do.

AI is a fantastic launch pad for a smart planner to begin her/his thinking, but it needs that human dimension. Sure, bots can trawl the internet and social media to deliver deep insights by sifting data, spotting patterns and making inferences we cannot. But they cannot explain why these patterns exist. That’s where we planners come in, and always will. We might not be efficient, but we can be breathtakingly effective.

So, I reckon we should be embracing AI. We have no chance of shaping it otherwise. For me, the future is not about AI or humans, but AI and humans.

Is that a future of malevolent benevolence or benevolent malevolence? Let’s get an AI algorithm to test that for us!