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Interviews on AI: Connecting Automation and Intelligence

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Alongside my recent pieces, Tech Trends: AI in 2017 and Creative Opinions on AI, I also conducted a series of interviews with some varied and insightful industry figures about their own experiences, hopes, thoughts, feelings and fears regarding the technology. Please note that the opinions expressed are those of the individuals being interviewed, and not of Creativepool or even me. Though I do happen to agree with a lot of the points raised! Please read on and if you have any of your own thoughts on the subject, or your own answers to the questions contained below, please feel free to answer in the comment section.

Tobias Wacker, Creative Director at Finnish-based creative agency, hasan & partners.

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This might sound like a rather simple question, but what do you personally feel that AI has to offer the world of marketing that no other technology or platform can?

The answer is simple: intelligence. Marketing still has a long way to go before it masters intelligence and although marketers and advertisers make meaningful and insightful steps towards their campaign end goals, they consistently battle with the complex systems in the dominant, digital marketing domain. Automation in marketing is huge but there’s still a lack of intelligence. Systems in marketing exist and work but drastically lack an intelligent dimension. There’s a black box of a huge creative playground AI can offer in marketing that will personalise a marketing experience on a one-to-one level as well as offer a creative arm to campaigns that we have seen AR and VR do. hasan & partners went to SXSW in Austin last week and we were bowled over by the full extent of AI in every product corner of the world. The week-long technology infusion at SXSW gave insight and inspiration into our know-how of AI in marketing. Let's just say there is huge potential in this space. 

What have your own personal experiences with AI been like? Can you remember the first time it really made sense for you?

I find AI fascinating considering the huge scope and potential it has. No matter if it's home automation with Alexa or potentially eradicating road deaths with self-driving cars. These products are opening the idea that AI could be. Still, those services are not functioning perfectly yet and there is so much more to do. In practice, I really understood the power of AI and IoT working on our latest creative campaign for global elevator company KONE. Quite simply we gave elevators a voice. KONE's elevators use sensors to transfer data between them in real time that were being analysed by the cloud and Watson IoT. If certain parameters are being understood outside of the normal scope, a technician is informed. We understood that those systems are having an intelligent dialogue with each other and we wanted to bring it to life. We created machine conversations, http://machineconversations.kone.com/, a site where people can tune in and listen to machines talk to each other in an intelligent way. It makes AI human with a tangible and understandable translation.

Do you think AI could play an important role in the creative process in the future and act as more of a tool than a crutch?

100%. It has been introduced in the creative space in a slow but steady process by making sense of big data, finding insights and targeting personalised content to individuals. In this context, AI is just a starting point for creativity, as it was in the KONE case. It's a fantastic tool for storytelling but there is so much more to offer. It’s impossible to predict the role but I can see AI being the pinnacle of marketing and creativity in the future.

Do you feel that Chatbots are a decent gateway or introduction into AI and its possibilities for brands and marketers in 2017?

The potential of personalising insights and services to each customer is obviously a great tool in marketing. It's where one-to-one content marketing is made easy, simple and scalable. The only thing I worry about is the lack of the human touch but if chatbots really do live up to their artificially intelligent reputations then it's just the beginning of this journey. Again, though there's still a lot of work to do with AI before it becomes humanly enough to provide the same service a human can.

Do you think there are any inherent dangers when it comes to AI? Or do you feel the "rise of the machines" naysayers are just paranoid and scared of change?

AI can evoke a range of dangers. There's obviously a societal issue in that AI services could end up doing jobs that people do today but the key here is to work with the emerging technology not against it, the same way we did in the rise of machinery and the industrial society. Then there are the bigger threats to human existence cited by Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking that we've also witnessed in the science-fiction movies but fundamentally, it's an incredibly exciting time to live on this planet. Development speed is massive and it is impossible to predict what will happen. But no-one will turn back time and it’s up to us to give things the most positive spin.

On the flip side, do you think AI could, potentially, help us solve some of the world’s biggest problems?

There are tremendous amounts of opportunities making human life easier, better, safer, you name it. Brand new technology can be expensive but as time goes on, the technology and resources get less expensive and more accessible for everyone in the world. AI has the potential to provide services, knowledge and information to every corner of the world. I’m sure AI will be able to solve challenging problems in a way we do not even understand today. 

How ‘mainstream’ do you think AI will become over the next 12 months?

From a technology perspective it will dominate the next 12 months, and naturally, AI will become mainstream through our phones, cars, home automation systems and so on. It might become mainstream without us really noticing that we’re talking about AI. From a creative perspective, marketers and advertisers will recognise the potential and want to utilise AI to practise one-to-one, personalised messaging in their work. Like I said before, there is so much more to learn about AI but experimenting with it in the creative sphere is going to be fun.

 

Gregor Pryor, Co-Chair of the Entertainment and Media Industry Group, Reed Smith.

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How do you feel AI is currently being utilised?

The machines haven't taken over.  Not yet at least.  They are, however, making inroads into our lives – affecting how we live, work and entertain ourselves.  From voice-powered personal assistants, to subtler technologies such as behavioural algorithms, suggestive searches and autonomously-powered self-driving vehicles boasting powerful predictive capabilities, there are several examples and applications of artificial intelligence in use today.  This is only the beginning – our utilisation of AI’s current capabilities is only the tip of the iceberg.

Any predictions for the immediate future?

Our view is that AI will continue to be used as primarily a sub-ordinate tool, with human input still required to set the parameters, prompt the style, or polish the final product.  However, AI will continue to develop from ‘weak’ AI (focusing on one or a small collection of tasks) to ‘strong’ AI (focusing on innumerable tasks).  Of particular note in the marketing and advertising industry, image recognition programs are likely to continue to develop so that consumers can take pictures of products around them and instantly receive information on and access to such products on the web.  Content generation through AI is also likely to develop – companies such as Automated Insights allow the user to upload sets of data which is summarised and collated into legible articles tailored to a specific audience. Note that law and regulation is a long way from catching up on the impact of some of these technological developments. Expect to see interesting legal and ethical questions being raised in the coming years in relation to AI.

Whether you are for or against the use of AI in marketing and advertising?

The proliferation of AI in marketing and advertising has seen a paradigm shift toward targeted ads.  One inherent problem is that they create a stream of content almost exclusively curated to your perceived taste, preventing incidental exposure to other products and services that may otherwise have been of interest.  If you are of a particular demographic and your internet activities and searches are broadly restricted to a selection of core categories, AI will prevent your exposure to a wide range of advertisement. While targeted advertising is now perceived as potent and cost-effective, advertisers looking to widen their target market may suffer; AI will not always provide the perfect solution.

What do you personally feel AI has to offer that no other technology or platform can?

AI provides the unique potential for deep interaction with humans. Able now to determine emotions by analysing facial expressions and tone of voice, compounded with the ability to strategically reason with imperfect information, AI could have a huge impact on the way we do business.  If (or perhaps when) tools based on deep-learning are applied to legal processes, AI may in time start to replace the services that lawyers currently provide.

Do you think there are any inherent dangers when it comes to AI? Or do you feel the "rise of the machines" naysayers are just paranoid and scared of change?

Although AI will bring about a seismic shift in human productivity and efficiency, the power and scope of its potential application concurrently poses very serious risks. Many highly-regarded experts and commentators have expressed deep reservations about an unbridled adoption of AI. By way of example, AI will continue to collect, analyse and make decisions based on an ever-growing quantity of our personal data – posing well-founded privacy law concerns. This is not only an issue for the data subjects themselves, but also those responsible for the implementation of the AI, who risk the imposition of significant legal sanctions (due soon to run into the tens of millions of Euro) for misuse of personal data.

 

Michelle Huff, CMO of Act-On; a marketing automation platform.

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This might sound like a rather simple question, but what do you personally feel that AI has to offer that no other technology or platform can?

I think AI, in particular machine learning, added to a platform has the potential to transform our customers’ lives online. This combination will enable technology solutions to adapt to changing tastes and preferences, in real-time, in ways other technologies alone simply have a hard time doing. To date, many of the platforms we use are designed for specific use cases, responses, and workflows. These newer solutions will continuously learn - providing more authentic and tailored customer experiences.

Do you think AI could play an important role in the creative process in the future and act as more of a tool than a crutch?

There are certain marketing functions that AI can replicate, but creative tasks are hard to generate and replace. I believe marketing strategy and creative direction will always be human led, but the many manual, repetitive tasks that burden marketers today could be replaced. Tasks such as analysing multiple data sets and outcomes, testing different messages and offers, making decisions related to targeting, optimal engagement times and preferred channels.

Do you feel that Chatbots are a decent gateway or introduction into AI and its possibilities for brands and marketers in 2017?

Chatbots are interesting and often times the most visible way to think about artificial intelligence and marketing. However, these technologies may also run into some of the most vocal objections by customers and will more than likely follow a traditional adoption curve as the bots improve over time. I do think more subtle introductions to AI will start to appear as new features in marketing products and tools that will help us make better decisions. Which message should I send? When should I send it? What channel should I choose? Soon we will see AI helping marketers make these decisions and adapt to the changing needs of the buyers over time. Customers may not even notice that AI was working in the background to create the experience.

Do you think there are any inherent dangers when it comes to AI? Or do you feel the "rise of the machines" naysayers are just paranoid and scared of change?

Danger only arises, I think, when AI is taken to be the answer for everything - instead of a complementary part of a larger strategy and set of tools. I do think it’s worth always asking yourself what could go wrong when implementing a solution, and then occasionally testing and verifying along the way. Many of us in marketing know that all is well...if things are going well. But once we hit a roadblock, if the answers are a black box and no one understands the strategy, how it works, and what could possibly go wrong - we are ultimately held accountable. Yet, these new technologies can be a great time-saving measure that can streamline and simplify processes. Man and machine ought to be able to coexist peacefully.

On the flip side, do you think AI could, potentially, help us solve some of the world’s biggest problems?

I’d argue AI has already started to solve some of our most pressing problems, actually! Researchers at Stanford, for instance, recently developed a pioneering algorithm able to detect melanomas and carcinomas in their earliest stages, simply by scanning a database of some 130k different images of skin cancers at various stages. Early diagnosis and prevention at the simple touch of a Smartphone button. It’s amazing!

How ‘mainstream’ do you think AI will become over the next 12 months.

I don’t think mainstream would be the right word to use for AI adoption over the next 12 months. If we look at the technology adoption lifecycle, AI adoption is still in the first stage - innovators. The marketers using AI today are from larger enterprises with the resources and expertise to implement and trial these types of innovations. AI usage in marketing is still in its infancy and being tested to see how it can supplement or optimise what marketers are already doing. And as far as machine learning goes, the more data points it gathers, behaviours it connects, and actions it tracks, the smarter it will get over time.

What have your own personal experiences with AI been like? Can you remember the first time it really made sense for you?

The first time it clicked, I have to say, was using Google Maps and then eventually Waze. In the palm of my hand, I had a tool that could take an enormous amount of data, understand where I was in my journey, and apply intelligence to everyday decisions I was making on the road - ultimately learning my behaviour, commuting hours and preferred routes. I essentially had a co-pilot at my disposal providing recommendations and course correcting in real time. It was the first real customer experience that I saw unfold on an individual customer’s terms rather than a brand’s, and it helped me realise how rare that truly is - a customer experience that’s adaptive, rather than pre-defined or reactive.

 

Tom Lovegrove, business director at Wasserman.

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This might sound like a rather simple question, but what do you personally feel that AI has to offer that no other technology or platform can?

AI offers a multitude of opportunities, some that are obvious such as Siri, Cortana and Alexa, and others that are less so. From a marketing perspective, AI already allows us to create personalised communications between brands and consumers. Similar systems will enable brands to provide personalised experiences in the real world; from playing a person’s favourite music at an event based on their listening habits, to crafting personalised drinks based on their taste preferences. This highly advanced level of personalisation has never been seen before and will help brands develop deeper more meaningful relationships with their customers.

What have your own personal experiences with AI been like? Can you remember the first time it really made sense for you?

Nowadays we interact with AI on a daily basis often without realising. Targeted ads, online customer service, entertainment recommendations are all seamlessly integrated into our lives now. In my experience it’s a conscious effort to stop and think just how much we interact with AI. One of the first AI technologies we used was facial recognition, specifically emotional recognition, for one of our campaigns.  When you see a piece of software that’s able to recognise and respond to people’s emotions you start to see the beginnings of how humans and machines may one day communicate as equals.

Do you think AI could play an important role in the creative process in the future and act as more of a tool than a crutch?

It’s important here to firstly note that creative should lead the tech but AI will play an important part in creativity. Firstly, it will help us to select the best creative idea from a range of options by analysing data from previous campaigns. AI can look at the reasons for the success or failure of previous campaigns and help judge creative effectiveness. AI can also be creative in its own right. M&C Saatchi used facial recognition technology to judge people’s reaction to a digital ad displayed at a bus stop. It evolved and adapted the creative of the ad in direct response to positive or negative reactions and ‘learned’ to create the most impactful ad possible.

Do you think there are any inherent dangers when it comes to AI? Or do you feel the "rise of the machines" naysayers are just paranoid and scared of change?

There is nothing inherently dangerous about AI any more than any other tool.  The danger comes in how it’s applied. A big issue now is how the vast amount of data that people share can be used by sophisticated AI systems to manipulate and influence public opinion. AI has been at the centre of recent stories surrounding Brexit and the US Presidential election. Cambridge Analytica, a data analysis company employed by the Trump campaign, claims to have psychological profiles of 220 million American voters. This data was used to create strategically tailored ads and content that targeted individuals to influence their vote in the Presidential election.

On the flip side, do you think AI could, potentially, help us solve some of the world’s biggest problems?

It absolutely can. AI can help solve the biggest challenges that face us by developing technologies to combat climate change, improving safety in transport or to use a recent example applying IBM’s AI Watson to help innovate in healthcare. Originally just collating doctors’ specific expertise in rare forms of cancer Watson role is now expanding to include personalised care, patient engagement, imaging review, and drug discovery. Ultimately, AI could cure disease, keep us safe and even free us from work leaving us free to live a life that we choose for ourselves rather than one imposed upon us.

How ‘mainstream’ do you think AI will become over the next 12 months?

Whether we like it or not AI is already mainstream. It’s in our phones, online shopping baskets, TVs and even in the advertising we see day-to-day. What’s interesting is how often a new AI system is only regarded as AI until it becomes familiar, then it just becomes technology.

What have your own personal experiences with AI been like? Can you remember the first time it really made sense for you?

Nowadays we interact with AI on a daily basis often without realising. Targeted ads, online customer service, entertainment recommendations are all seamlessly integrated into our lives now. In my experience it’s a conscious effort to stop and think just how much we interact with AI . One of the first AI technologies we used was facial recognition, specifically emotional recognition, for one of our campaigns.  When you see a piece of software that’s able to recognise and respond to people’s emotions you start to see the beginnings of how humans and machines may one day communicate as equals.

 

Vince Lynch, CEO of IV.AI, one of the world’s first Artificial Intelligence agencies, with offices in the US and UK.

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This might sound like a rather simple question, but what do you personally feel that AI has to offer that no other technology or platform can?

AI covers a number of different technologies and capabilities, but the opportunity for AI to benefit businesses and brands depends on the vertical. It has the ability to simplify processes and follow rules, which means it can provide incredibly valuable utility. Given the right data and environment, it can keep improving and keep getting better at the jobs assigned to it.

What have your own personal experiences with AI been like? Can you remember the first time it really made sense for you?

As with most things, AI needs examples and personal use for it to come to life, but when I was at Amazon and got early exposure to Amazon Alexa, that was quite a defining moment. Most recently, IV.AI built an artificial intelligence version of The Red Queen for Sony Pictures in anticipation of the worldwide release of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, allowing fans to experience a genuine interaction with the film character that they know and love. It was a new way of approaching entertainment via social media, using AI at the beginning to build character traits and a package of animation using image recognition to make the journey visually stimulating.

Do you think AI could play an important role in the creative process in the future and act as more of a tool than a crutch?

AI works best when complementing human expertise, and I expect there to be creative tools that take on some of the heavy lifting in the future creative process. They will save time and mean that work can be done quicker but to the same standard, meaning even more efficiency for brands and businesses.

Do you feel that Chatbots are a decent gateway or introduction into AI and its possibilities for brands and marketers in 2017?

Chatbots provide a tangible and easy-to-understand first step for clients and brands. A lot of our conversations begin with chatbots, but end somewhere else once we are able to work through how the technology can benefit brands in different ways.

Do you think there are any inherent dangers when it comes to AI? Or do you feel the "rise of the machines" naysayers are just paranoid and scared of change?

AI will change the way that people work, but I believe this is largely positive. We will however start to see job losses due to the efficiencies that AI drives. Budweiser recently shipped 50,000 cans of beer over 120 miles in an autonomous truck. Everyday, we are seeing real impact with our customer service clients. AI is driving 12x efficiency with some models, equating to 40% headcount savings. We should expect to see job losses for hard skills where machines add efficiencies and therefore diminish the demand for a human brain to manage the task. The practical impact we've seen often registers as positive with staff that appreciate skipping structured, mundane tasks to focus on personable, intuitive interaction with customers. The Obama White House released a report on the state of the industry that concluded that AI will ultimately lead to higher average wages and fewer work hours, thus supporting the benefit of AI in the workforce.

How ‘mainstream’ do you think AI will become over the next 12

The hype of AI will fizzle out and the real work of problem solving will begin. The mainstream’s first instinct was to allow their imaginations to run wild with the promise of ‘new intelligence accessible by all’. Now that expectations have been managed, we can get down to the real deal of bettering business with the help of augmented intelligence - the AI of the hour, because a hybrid approach that couples machine learning and human input is driving initial results for new adopters. We are in an exciting new position where new minds are getting excited about AI and trying to figure out how they can find a use case for their daily activities. As more businesses use AI to solve their problems, whether apparent to consumers or not, there will continue to be rapid growth in the area for the foreseeable future. 

 

Emi Gal, ‎CEO, Teads Studio

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How do you feel artificial intelligence is currently impacting the creativity of advertising?

AI is already being used at length in targeting individuals based on their interests and audience profiles. It is now expanding to the creative itself, with products like Teads Studio enabling advertisers to dynamically personalise their creatives in real-time, using data. In the near future, we believe advertisers will be able to self-assemble ads for every single impression. 

How will this impact the creative input of human beings?

Rumours of AI killing humanity are greatly exaggerated. We're not concerned about security risks because all the data used by our machine learning models is non-identifiable, so individuals can't be identified by our AI even in a dystopian version of the future. 

How do you think will AI impact advertising in the near future?

Machine learning is already used in advertising, so this is not science fiction - it's already happening. For example, advertisers are already using machine learning to targeting ads to the right audiences, and later this year at Teads we will start using the same approach for personalising interactivity within a creative. As for fully self-assembling ads, we believe that's 2-3 years away, and we plan to be at the forefront of that. 

Benjamin Hiorns is a freelance writer and musician from Kidderminster in the UK.

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