Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
Much of the work in bot development today is on the side of brand marketers, but it’s not impossible that consumers might also find a role for bots.
Kavanagh points to the Sydney-based startup, Meeco, as an early indicator of a consumer bot revolution, through its technology for creating personally-controlled identity preferences that can be used to signal intent to service providers.
“It is viable to think of a scenario where you could have services offered, and an agent acting on your behalf to receive them,” Kavanagh says. “Even some of the flight booking services, in the examples we are seeing in the US and Europe, are not dissimilar to this.”
AI-based apps are already emerging that can perform tasks such as answering email and scheduling appointments. The eventually possibility is for AI to act as agents on behalf of consumers, possibly in the form or apps or bots that scour the web for the best deals on anything from consumer goods to electricity contracts.
According to vice-president of the International Federation for Information Processing, Prof Mike Hinchey, you can already see the beginning of this in the way consumers use apps today.
“You will have to be interacting with whatever apps people are using, because they won’t be using websites,” he says. “And it will be the app of the month. And the ‘in’ app will change not just based on what it does, but who is using it.”
All of this leads to a future which becomes stranger and stranger, with AIs being used by brands to craft more compelling offers, while personal AIs are sifting and comparing these offers.
So what use will there be for humans at all?
Us versus the machines
Discussion of AI in any profession immediately raises questions of whether it will begin to supplant the role of humans in those professions. While technology has traditionally created more jobs than it destroys, this is a tendency rather than a rule, and may not always hold true. And often, the jobs its creates require a very different skillset to those it destroys.
Oracle’s Griffith is an optimist.
“The development of technology in marketing, especially AI, increases the need for humans, because it opens up potential for things you weren’t able to do before,” Griffith says. “You still need humans to work out what you want to do with that.”
Not everyone is so positive about the AI-driven future, however. Speaking ahead of his appearance at the recent Creative Innovation 2016 conference in Melbourne, US-based researcher and author of the book Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, Martin Ford, says marketing is going to be taken over by algorithms and become extremely data-driven.
First to feel the heat will be those marketers engaged in routine activities, as these will be automated, but Ford says it is only a matter of time before AI starts moving up the value stack.
“We see that in even the more creative areas,” he says. “There is going to be a continuing role there, but a question throughout the economy is going to be job destruction and job creation – how are those two going to weigh against each other. My view is in the long run, the destruction is going to outweigh the creation, and the jobs that are created are going to require more and more elite skill.”
Ultimately, Ford says it may come down to a race between whether human marketers can improve their skills at a faster rate than the machines can.
“Even if new jobs are created, the rate at which jobs are destroyed is going to be very rapid, and it is going to be very, very hard for people to keep up with that,” Ford says. “And a lot of the jobs that are going to be created in the future are not necessarily going to be acceptable to a lot of average people.”
So while AI may not wipe out the role of marketer, it will change the skill set required. “If you want to have a career in marketing, you are going to need to become much more quantitative and analytical and have at least an understanding of concepts like machine learning and AI and how they can be leveraged,” Ford says.
He provides some solace though for creative professionals. “You are in pretty good shape for the next 10 to 20 years,” Ford says. “Beyond that, who knows.
“I think we tend to overestimate how important that human element really is.”