Just last week in Seoul, a computer created by a British company called “Deep Mind” decisively beat a top-ranking human master at the game of Go. Go is far more complex than chess, making it impossible for even our fastest computers to win by using brute computational force to analyze every possible move and outcome. The AlphaGo system succeeded by using “deep neural networks” that mimic the connections of neurons in the brain and have the capacity to learn. Indeed, AlphaGo got good by studying old games and playing itself over and over to discover patterns and learn from its own mistakes.
What’s a bit chilling is that, until recently, AI experts thought we were a decade away from seeing a computer beat a human Go master. AI’s evolution is accelerating, and some are warning that we’re not prepared for the disruption when computers and robots surpass human capabilities in many areas – and put large numbers of us out of work.
We marketing and advertising folks are not immune. We’re already seeing programmatic algorithms take on more and more of the job of placing digital ads – sifting data about users and behavior and bids and performance in split-second ways no human brain could ever attempt. But what about less quantitative tasks like revealing a target audience insight or writing a brilliant headline? Those jobs feel like they’re safe from silicon-based competition – but so did the Go masters until last week.
Here’s an even more mind-twisting thought: Let’s assume AI continues its evolution and computers one day learn to do many more human jobs. I can envision a future where deep learning machines are not only doing much of the work of marketing and advertising, but also acting as agents responsible for evaluating products and purchasing them. In other words, robot marketers will be advertising to robot buyers. What that will actually look like, I can hardly imagine.
In the meantime, it’s probably no use for us humans in marketing departments and agencies to freak out. Just focus on doing the jobs we still have as brilliantly as humanly possible. Focus on work that’s less likely to get stolen by a robot in the short term: challenging, non-routine tasks that resist computational solutions and force us to draw deep human insights or come up with unexpected, creative solutions. You know, the stuff we strive to do anyway.
And hope the robot-ruled future turns out more like a Jetsons episode than a Terminator sequel.