Man Vs Machine
Man Vs Machine
A view from Rachel Barnes

The human touch can never be replaced by an automatic download

For all the technology filling our worlds, our lives remain analogue. Even as those in Gen Z grow up glued to their devices - or perhaps just one all-purpose watch or pair of glasses - they live their lives (mostly) in the real world, at the mercy of human frailties.

While technology has altered our behaviour, and those changing needs thus demand more gadgets, the human touch can’t be replaced entirely. It’s not a new concept, but human-computer symbiosis is more resonant than ever.

Coined in 1960, the concept is grounded in the fact that a combination of human intelligence and understanding working collaboratively with technology results in optimal success. This was neatly illustrated in 2005, when chess players and computers working together proved unbeatable against one or other.

In our latest October issue, we explore the spot where technology and creativity collide. As Apple has shown, while you can have one without the other, when they are interwoven at the heart of a business, we find magic.

But even the mighty Apple doesn’t always crack it. Music taste is so personal that to presume to know your 500m users will rejoice in the gift of a U2 album automatically appearing on their playlist was a fundamental failure to know its customer. 

Seeking "permission to engage", as Emma Woods, group marketing director at Merlin Entertainment, points out is key to joining the conversation. By failing to grasp this basic principle, Apple revealed an arrogance that was intolerable even to its devotees.

I get enormous pleasure in imagining Apple developers running around to retrospectively create a U2-removal button

I get enormous pleasure in imagining Apple developers running around to retrospectively create a U2-removal button. The need for the human touch can never be overlooked or replaced by an automatic download.

In our cover feature in our October issue, Justin Cooke, chief executive of Possible, describes how some brands show themselves to be "tone deaf" in their misuse of data. "Data, without the filter of a human element, has no tact, social grace or conscience."

I realise this is preaching to the converted – few, if anyone, embarks on a career in marketing for the love of data above understanding real, living, breathing people.

I would also like to make a special mention of Dianne Thompson, who will retire from her role as chief executive of Camelot later this month. In an incredible career spanning four decades, Thompson has seen the effect of rapid technological advances.

With that wisdom comes a warning, of which Apple would do well to take note. There is fine line between smart marketing and being intrusive, says Thompson. "Marketers need to let consumers decide what they are ready for and how much interaction they want with brands. Don’t push too much, too fast, or the result could be that they just tune you out."

Or, worse still, they may demand a button to delete your brand from their lives.