No longer should we expect the unexpected
A view from Maisie McCabe

No longer should we expect the unexpected

In a post-privacy world, man and machine are getting to know us all better. Being surprised by what people think might be a thing of...

Many Brits had a new memory of Cannes week this year. Alongside the hours seemingly lost without a trace at the Gutter Bar, the furious sweaty sprints down La Croisette and the inspirational talks – if you were lucky enough to bag a pass – many of us were forced to confront recollections of an altogether more political kind. For it was one year after the Brexit vote. A year since so many of us realised that we were out of touch with many of our fellow Brits; a year since 1,269,501 people ensured that nothing would be the same again.

At an entertaining session on the Tuesday, Chuck Porter, chairman of Crispin Porter & Bogusky, hosted a discussion on what marketers must learn from the elections of 2016. 

Speaking with Porter was Dr Michal Kosinski, who was one of the first people to research whether computers can predict personality traits based on Facebook "likes". The Stanford University academic said that his first motivation was to deliver a "warning" to show what it was possible to do with the information people give up freely. Companies, politicians and governments can use seemingly innocuous data to reveal details about you that you would prefer to keep private or could put you at risk, he says. 

If you thought the recent furore about the use of private data and the upcoming introduction of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation might set us on a new course, Kosinski urges you to temper expectations. He says that we can win some wars, introduce some new laws but, in the long term (within five to ten years), there is going to be no privacy left. The machines – and the people who man them – will know us intimately. 

It’s something to think about as we move further into an artificially intelligent world. One that futurists such as Ray Kurzweil – who spoke at the Palais alongside PHD’s Mark Holden – believe will see the machines sitting not alongside us but in our bloodstream within 20 years.

Last week, Maurice Lévy described to me going to bed on 23 June 2016 as Nigel Farage conceded defeat before waking up to find he had been victorious. In the early hours of 9 June 2017, there was no false dawn for the Tories as it immediately became apparent that something unexpected was happening. Unexpected by many people, at least. As its chairman Roger Parry was keen to point out to me the morning after the general election, YouGov upped its game this time. By adding a layer of statistical modelling over its panel, YouGov correctly predicted a hung parliament with a week to go. At the time, Barack Obama staffer turned Theresa May advisor Jim Messina was so confident about the Conservatives’ prospects, he called it "stupid".

Since Brexit, we’ve had Ogilvy & Mather’s chief strategy officer, Kevin Chesters, sending his teams off to the wilds of Grimsby and Atomic London travelling to deepest Essex in a bid to reconnect with people. YouGov’s success and the previous accuracy of Kurzweil’s predictions should remind us that the machines can help us find the right answers too. Even if they might not be the ones we were looking for.

Maisie McCabe is acting UK editor of Campaign.
maisie.mccabe@haymarket.com
@maisiemccabe