Fear not: It's only a robot

Dan Kalinski

Dan Kalinski Chief Executive Officer, iProspect ANZ Dan was appointed CEO of iProspect Australia and New Zealand in May 2016 following four years as managing director. Dan has a career spanning over 16 years in the performance marketing industry, on both client and agency side. Working for brands such as Reprise Media, MullenLowe Profero and Media Contacts, he has gained experience throughout the UK, EMEA and APAC, and across multiple verticals for leading global brands such as Coca Cola, FedEx, P&G, Burberry, Prada, NatWest, HSBC, Nokia, Microsoft, General Motors, Glaxo SmithKline and Exxon. At iProspect, Dan leads 200 staff across Australia and New Zealand. His strengths include product innovation, market strategy, mergers and acquisitions, team and business development.

Every time I pass through the automated border controls at the Sydney airport I walk away with a feeling of exasperation on the one hand and relief on the other. Exasperation, because the face recognition technology inevitably always fails to recognise me, which prompts all sorts of thoughts about wasting tax payers’ dollars on ineffective technology when Facebook does this very job ten times better and costs nothing. Relief, because we seem to be safely years away from the Orwellian reality of states controlling every aspect of our lives; something the media is keenly warning us against each day.     

A lot has been said and written about the potential dangers arising from artificial intelligence (AI) and I’ll leave this argument to politicians and writers. While they continue to debate the possibility of self-taught machines ruling the world, killing people or making us all unemployed, the real AI revolution is quietly taking place in the boring and mundane backwaters of the daily working life.

According to Narrative Science survey, 38 per cent of US enterprises are already using AI and are forecast to grow to 62 per cent by 2018, while a Forrester Research study predicted a 300 per cent year-on-year increase in investment in AI in 2017.   

Also in Australia, we’ve seen growth in adoption of machine learning and automation. For instance, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) uses a growing amount of automated high-tech equipment to forecast the weather with greater precision. The automation helps process vast amount of data and changes how weather observers do their jobs, but it doesn’t make them obsolete. In fact, the organisation continues to hire and create new specialist roles.   

We recently started using machine learning software developed by our experts in Mumbai and Singapore to automate analysis and processing of big data in a bid to better understand consumer engagement, make better optimisation decisions, and improve our clients’ ROI (by 38 per cent). No jobs lost to robots. Just better results. AI is helping our teams to rely more on their intuition, experience and personalities rather than on laborious number crunching. This allows them to deploy uniquely human insight, which is more valuable than automatable work.    

The application of machine learning to CRM holds, in our view, the biggest promise for our clients. The ability to understand who are your most valuable customers over time, not just the last transaction, has the potential to unlock huge margin gain opportunities; thus allowing marketers to improve their targeting capability, and investment and optimisation strategies – moving away from the short term ROAS metric to the sharper lens of ROI of a single customer.  

Retailers who get there first are bound to reap huge rewards. According to economic advisory company, AlphaBeta, automation is a $2.2 trillion opportunity for Australia. Provided we get this right – note to all CFOs – automation is not about cost reduction, it’s about value creation.   

Using Forrester’s analysis, we’re seeing the following fastest growing applications of AI in Australia:  

  • Virtual Agents: From simple chatbots to advanced systems able to network with humans. Currently used in customer service and support and as a smart manager (e.g. recently launched Google Home). Key vendors: Amazon, Apple, Artificial Solutions, Google, IBM, IPsoft, Microsoft.   
  • Speech Recognition: Transcribes human speech into computer friendly format. Currently used in interactive voice response systems and mobile applications. Sample vendors: NICE, Nuance Communications, OpenText. 
  • Machine Learning Platforms: Currently used in a wide range of enterprise applications, mostly `involving prediction or classification’. Key vendors: Amazon, Fractal Analytics, Google, Microsoft, SAS, Skytree.  
  • Decision Management: Used in a wide variety of enterprise applications, assisting in or performing automated decision-making. Sample vendors: Advanced Systems Concepts, Informatica, Pegasystems, UiPath.  
  • Biometrics: Enabling more natural interactions between humans and machines. Including, but not limited to, image and touch recognition, speech, and body language – for instance, automated border control gates at the Sydney airport. Sample vendors: 3VR, Affectiva, Agnitio, FaceFirst, Sensory, Synqera, Tahzoo.

AI is already ubiquitous and well-engrained into our daily lives. Think Google and how it suggests search terms before you even finish typing; or Facebook serving you ads from recently visited websites.  

Announcing the launch of Google’s own smartphone, The Pixel, Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai said that as an 'AI-first' company, this is a unique moment in time for Google to combine hardware, software and artificial intelligence. The new Pixel smartphones come with an image-recognition app called Lens that can help users find information just by pointing a camera at a movie poster or an ad. The new 'smart speaker' uses artificial intelligence to adjust its sound for the layout of a room. And new wireless headphones allow for instant translation of different languages.   

Car manufacturers are another front line of fast AI adoption. BMW has now integrated voice and gesture recognition into its fleet, allowing drivers to control and interact with on-board technology in an almost seamless way.   

If embraced early, technology can yield huge returns for businesses. Improving customer experience, removing friction, speeding up boring tasks - these are tangible customer benefits which deliver tangible, incremental revenue. If applied in the right way, technology can tremendously improve our lives and it should be embraced and not feared and I will make sure to remember this next time I get stuck at the airport.

Tags: Emerging Technologies, image recognition, big data analytics, data-driven marketing

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