A Human Writes This Blog … For Now

“Our machines should be nothing more than tools for extending the powers of the human beings who use them,” Thomas Watson Jr. That quote, from IBM’s founder, is on the site of IBM Watson. I’ve spent this past week admiring artificial intelligence (AI) — or “cognitive business” as IBM positions itself…

Our machines should be nothing more than tools for extending the powers of the human beings who use them.
Thomas Watson Jr.

That quote, from IBM’s founder, is on the site of IBM Watson.

I’ve spent this past week admiring artificial intelligence (AI) — or “cognitive business” as IBM positions itself — and the achievements happening in the world of machine learning. IBM Watson Chief Marketing Officer Stephen Gold presented at Marketing Idea eXchange, telling us of the marvels of computing today. If we think our current daily data output of 2.5 quintillion bytes is a flood, wait until the 44 zetabytes data tsunami that’s just around the corner gets here, every day.

Now, 88 percent of this data is unstructured — speech, video, social, according to Gold, much of it beyond the realm of most present-day database analyses and analysts. We know from McKinsey, IBM and even DMA studies that’s there’s not enough talent in the world, never mind the U.S., to analyze it all — to find the patterns and make sense of it, and then to apply that knowledge in faster and faster time.

Enter, AI. IBM is not alone in this quest. Watson may have had its early fun (and success) on Jeopardy, but IBM Watson today has learned a lot since then — how to converse, how to discover, how to optimize decisions, how to personalize and how to analyze. Google DeepMind’s GoAlpha is making its own statement with a Go human challenge — chalk another one four up for the machine. Most certainly Amazon, Oracle and others — anyone with a cloud — are making their way into your mind.

There are implications for society and for marketing. (Is Siri really after my job?)

A former colleague of mine at Harte Hanks used to tell me that automated analytics software is like dynamite — very useful, but only in the right hands. But like Mr. Watson says, it’s only a tool.

We will still need a marketing discipline that is sure-footed, astute-crafted and red-blooded — with young men and women who need to be smart with data, and even smarter with data tools. Marketing success in our business has always been about data, but wow, how that data has changed in volume, velocity and variability!

So I leave with three questions to ponder, for comment and to keep my job a little longer:

Question 1: Can Artificial intelligence fill the talent gap in the world of marketing? I believe the answer is yes.

Question 2: Is AI indeed like dynamite — needing to be handled with care, only in the hands of professionals? (Or is it a democratizing tool, best used in the hands of everyone?) The verdict is still out for me here.

Questions 3: How will AI enter the marketing suite? And which C-level officer will be the first to introduce it in the C-suite? It’s always via the CFO, isn’t it?

Underscoring all of this are ethical implications, too. Much of what we know about risk and data governance comes from a more structured world, but what will we find when we collect immense amounts of unstructured data, and start finding and applying patterns there? Let’s plan for the positive, because there are so many tremendously socially valuable needs which AI can serve (and is serving). Let’s fence the negative, because individual respect, democracy and universality must be preserved, too. And let’s keep humanity in control of the process – because that’s how machines learn in the first place.