10/28/2016 02:27 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Dreaming of Electric Sheep


John Snyder, CEO and Co-Founder, Grapeshot

As a CEO and serial entrepreneur, I spend a great deal of time thinking about what’s next, distinguishing between game-changing moments and flash-in-the-pan trends, and getting out in front of major advancements that will disrupt the way we do business. In recent months, every VC investor I meet with inevitably brings up the topic of Artificial Intelligence. It’s certainly the buzzword du jour, and with good reason. Computer Science graduates can now take their pick of major global employers, while marketers are now anxious they could face redundancy because of it.

Artificial Intelligence is a source of great wonder and optimism but as always with change and uncertainty come levels of fear and pessimism. Remember the resistance to real-time bidding and the fear it would replace the roles of media buyers?

So which is it for you: Riches or Redundancy? Maybe, neither.

Before you pick a side, let's consider IBM's response.

I'm struck that IBM dismisses Artificial Intelligence as a misnomer.  And it frightens people.   Forever associated with Orwellian Dystopian movies. The Matrix. 2001. WestWorld. They never end well. Instead IBM rebrands AI as Augmented Intelligence. They sensibly are positioning that it’s the best way forward to use machine learning to add to our intelligence, not replace it. Smart.

Augmented Intelligence can become a valuable tool to refine marketing activity. We are on the cusp of a data explosion. AI tools can help filter through mass amounts of data, identifying key metrics and trends allowing marketers to consistently optimize campaigns. While it is of course  impossible to definitively predict the future, through predictive technology we are closer now than ever before. Predictive technology allows marketers to get a first look at content that will be trending within 72 hours at a 75% success rate.

Something the machines find difficult to assess is the quality of data.  They organize the data into something more useful, shareable, actionable. However, what if there is an anomaly skewing the data? The old adage poor quality in, poor quality out is as relevant as it ever was. It's beholden on us all to assess the validity of the data before using it to make decisions. How was the data collected? What is the sample representative of? How fresh is the data? All the honed techniques of the quantitative research industry are more important today than prior to the machine learning revolution.

Another area suited for the humans: interpreting the results. Look not just for the correlations - that AI can do just fine - but the causations.  When we have the insight, check that it makes sense. Evaluate the risks in the decision. We all know GPS horror stories.  It doesn't matter whether the machine was loaded with duff data or incomplete instructions, if your car is heading off the jetty into the river then you intervene! IBM CEO David Kenny has pointed out that Watson in early days started with knowledge extraction: reading documents, finding common phrases, associating those together. Then it has to get corrected. The human element was imperative at the start: yes, that’s right or no, that’s wrong. Then the system learns over time and gets better as you continue correcting it.

At the recent ANA conference in Florida, Mark Pritchard, Chief Brand Officer at P&G reminded everyone the reason why we all got into this in the first place is as important as ever. "Doing good creative work also requires time, he said. "And we have a problem, because we're spending too much of our time on measurement of advertising vs. the quality. We're fiddling with measurement debates while consumers are blocking our ads. Measurement is not going to make crappy advertising better." While this was part of a broader statement about the roles of agencies, there is application in this discussion. The promise of AI is that it frees you from the research/analysis time suck, giving that time back to you to luxuriate in creative thinking, insight and problem solving.

Advertisers and entrepreneurs alike cannot be complacent and ignore what is coming. Instead of burying heads in the sand because it’s scary, we have to learn about what AI actually is and adopt it to suit our needs to guarantee future success. The world is always evolving, technology is always changing and one cannot rely on what has worked in the past to always work. Get involved now and when the change comes make sure you are on the right side of it. You won't be made redundant, you just might make a few more dollars, and you’ll have plenty to talk about at the next industry conference.