Sentience: the coming AI revolution and the implications for marketing

Artificial intelligence (AI) is here today, and getting smarter every year. With both computing power and data collection increasing exponentially, our machines are gaining on us. Within just over a decade from now they will be far more intelligent than we are, according to PHD's book 'Sentience: The Coming AI Revolution and the Implications for Marketing'.

The AI revolution is coming to marketing, according to PHD
The AI revolution is coming to marketing, according to PHD
AI applications will be largely ad-supported, meaning that marketing will be one of the first disciplines disrupted by AI

Computers are already writing stories for major newspapers, helping doctors to search for cures for cancer, and winning game shows. In short, AI has crossed the chasm from science fiction to science fact. Whilst we don’t yet have computers as smart as HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, or Samantha from Her, futurists like Ray Kurzweil — who’s hard at work helping Google build AIs that can understand human language — believe they’re just around the corner.

But will these machines actually be sentient? They will certainly appear sentient. Over time we’ll develop relationships with them. Business relationships. Personal relationships. Emotional relationships that, even if they’re not reciprocated, will feel very real to us.

It’s time to start thinking about what this means, both for our lives and, yes, for marketing.

AI applications will be largely ad-supported, meaning that marketing will be one of the first disciplines disrupted by AI.

This may seem like a distant possibility, but the immutable march of Moore’s Law — the mega trend in technology that says computers will progressively get twice as fast and cost half as much every 12–18 months — is turning science fiction into a reality in which consumers exist, and in which marketers need to operate.

The new world of intelligent machines will create many new opportunities as well as new challenges for brands. On the one hand, there will be far better tools for finding new audiences and for delivering customized ads to the right customers. But it will also create new challenges, as personal AIs may take the place of traditional advertising for many consumers.

AI-Enabled Marketing: The Implications for Marketing

The place where AI will become most visible will be in day-to-day consumer products — information-access, entertainment-centric and social-connection platforms accessed across multiple devices. And new categories of products that we cannot yet understand — potentially the more considered manifestations of IoT (Internet of Things) that offer a utility to justify the cost and the head-space required for consumers to consider them.

Within three to seven years we are likely to have unrecognisably more powerful systems that will start to make purchase decisions and purchases for us. At that point marketers are marketing to an algorithm not to the prefrontal cortex

For premium products where the producer of content can demand it, these products will be accessed on a pay-model. But, based on what we have seen over the last decade, most of the information-access and social-connection products are most likely to be advertising and data-supported payment models.

That is why advertising, and therefore marketing, is most likely to be radically reorganized by this AI-revolution.

Although it is near-impossible to predict with accuracy how this landscape will look five to ten years from now, we can sense-out some likely scenarios using a logic-linked analysis. Put simply, if we start with what we know now, and simply ask the question "if that, then likely what?" If you ask this same question a few times you can start to see where things could go.

In this book we have started by taking a look at some of the likely products — and what they will do. We will also explore the new types of marketing and media opportunities that these products could offer up, and finally we take a broader view on what it may mean to plan marketing communications five to ten years from now.

So where do we see the technology impacting brands, near-term and long-term?

The big thing to focus on is the development of the technology underpinning virtual personal assistants (VPAs). At the moment they are quite basic but they are improving dramatically. Within three to seven years we are likely to have unrecognisably more powerful systems that will start to make purchase decisions and purchases for us. At that point marketers are marketing to an algorithm not to the prefrontal cortex.

The Rise of the Sentient VPA

The VPA will have access to the world and will edit it for you — our sense of what the internet is will dramatically contract from an unfathomably large expanse of information into a simple human voice

If you look at all the products being created today, they are skillfully trying to create the bridge between the external world and you — with map and navigation services, image-recognition features in social sites, recommendation engines and much, much more.

The most interesting bridging device, and the one that is likely to become the ultimate bridge, is arguably the Virtual Personal Assistant (VPA). At present they are very weak in their AI functionality, but we must consider these through a lens of what they could become. The answer lies somewhere in your VPA having, what is ostensibly, a sentient mind that spends its entire time and focus managing your life — making everything easier, removing boundaries.

These VPAs will be much more than the walled gardens that they currently are. They will be open-ended VPAs — as in they will scan the tagged-up world. This is what Viv is working on creating.

The VPA will have access to the world and will edit it for you — our sense of what the internet is will dramatically contract from an unfathomably large expanse of information into a simple human voice.

Marketing’s AI Future

The more we depend upon AI software to handle tasks on our behalf, the more power we give to those AIs, and the smarter they will become. Ultimately, they will usher in the new world in which advertisers will need to operate. Technology will rule but creativity must not be sacrificed, despite the temptation to do so.

Ultimately, there might be fewer messages seen, but the ones that do get seen will have been selected based on extremely specific purchasing and behavioral data about you

Optimizing to the machine will be the greatest determinant of success. Ensuring that the current disciplines of SEO, PPC and programmatic buying are being embraced and upskilled now will help in the future as these will be the most transferable skills to our new models.

Ultimately, there might be fewer messages seen, but the ones that do get seen will have been selected based on extremely specific purchasing and behavioral data about you. This will be combined with a bid price from the advertiser, a quality score for the product/service and usage data to confirm the product/service’s experience. All of which will be handled in nanoseconds by our VPAs, and served up without us knowing which brands or products narrowly missed out.

And when done well, broadcast brand communication will take the form of spectacular content and experiences, indiscernible from entertainment.

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