The Marketer’s Job in an AI Future

Whether you’re talking about cognitive computing, machine learning, artificial intelligence or its more common acronym, AI, the real topic is machines doing jobs humans used to. What does that mean for marketers in an AI-dominated future? How will the human role change? Are robots going to steal marketing jobs, or elevate them?

Whether you’re talking about cognitive computing, machine learning, artificial intelligence or its more common acronym, AI, the real topic is machines doing jobs humans used to. What does that mean for marketers in an AI-dominated future? How will the human role change? Are robots going to steal marketing jobs, or elevate them?

Let’s think it through.

Luddites and Automation

Automation has always been seen as a threat to human employment. In fact, one of the first uses of sabotage against automation happened back in the 1810s. “Luddite” textile workers destroyed weaving machines that were poised to take their jobs. (Yes, that is where the term “Luddite” comes from.)

Today the alarm may be less destructive, but it’s still ringing. For example, a few months ago, PWC projected that the U.S. stands to lose 38 percent of its jobs to automation in the next 15 years. And the New York Times’s Claire Cain Miller has built her column on cataloging the negative impacts automation will have on jobs.

But these analyses focus just on job losses, and that’s not the best way to think about automation. After all, the Luddite movement was 100 years ago. While hand-weaving may not be a growth field today, the textile industry employs far more people now than it did then.

While automation changes the tasks employers will pay people to do, in the past it has not put populations truly out of work. The jobs change, but they’re still there.

Analysts are starting to see hope in the AI future on our horizon as well.

USA Today recently ran a special report on the impact of automation across the U.S. economy. And while some of the stats in it are eye-popping — PWC believes 45 percent of work activities can be automated (PDF), potentially “saving” $2 trillion in labor costs; McKinsey identified 70 jobs that could have 90 percent of their tasks handled by automation — the overall takeaway is that the economy is not collapsing, it’s changing.

How Jobs Will Change With AI

Quartz is one publication that’s taken a positive view of the impact AI will have on humans and our careers. A recent Quartz article by Dennis R. Mortensen argued that AI will elevate our jobs and “restore our humanity.”

“Each time technology ate one type of jobs, new ones appeared to take their place,” says Mortensen. “Human ingenuity did its thing, we adapted, and we survived to live (and work) another century.”

His big takeaway: “Automation will take away the parts of our jobs we don’t like and leave room for more meaningful work.

Jobs for Everyone — Riding the Data Train to Washington

Positions in digital media and data analysis abound, and we’re still not training them fast enough to meet the demand — domestically. That means support for all aspects of data curricula at colleges and universities, and perhaps secondary education too, as well as retraining programs for displaced workers — something that did not receive nearly enough attention in the general election.

President-elect Donald J. Trump didn’t take long to take credit for an arrangement to keep a Carrier Corporation plant in the U.S. — even if there was some question over just how many jobs were in the balance.

Hanging onto good-paying manufacturing jobs certainly is a well-intended public policy goal, as long as we understand the incurred corporate welfare cost that was just shifted to the taxpayer. Still, a saved private-sector job is better than a lost private-sector job. However, it’s only a bridge or a bandage.

There are plenty of jobs — well paid and in America — that are dear to fill. Perhaps public policy, public and private education, research and development, and maybe even some philanthropy might do a better job preparing (all of) America for the 21st Century. We love STEM majors, but also critical thinking from liberal arts that give strategy to data analysis. AdTech and advertising are booming — we all need better and faster algorithms to help sell things efficiently, and data-informed creative skills to create more engaging and relevant content.

Let’s face it. America needs to re-orient itself for the “Data Train.”marketing dataPositions in digital media and data analysis abound, and we’re still not training them fast enough to meet the demand — domestically. That means support for all aspects of data curricula at colleges and universities, and perhaps secondary education too, as well as retraining programs for displaced workers — something that did not receive nearly enough attention in the general election.

Let the private sector do its work and let innovation grow the marketplace for jobs. Perhaps government can best help by researching and reporting what skills and training are desperately needed. This is not a call for central government planning, but if we can fund corporate incentives to “stay home,” we can certainly fund training and retraining programs for an Information Economy, based on the commercial availability and responsible use of data, that is providing financial well-being for millions of households, with millions more to come.

Hey, I’m all for “shovel-ready” jobs to rebuild American infrastructure — that well could be a bipartisan love affair that helps bolster global standing for “U.S. Open for Business.” But, also, in that same refrain, let’s demand a “jobs” plan that puts an emphasis on education and retraining for the Information Economy. The U.S. leads in this category — are we going to squander it?

Happy Holidays, and as you make your end-of-year giving, please consider our own livelihoods and future talent development in our field. Consider sponsoring a student and donate to Marketing EDGE. Philanthropy, yes, and an investment in a data-driven marketing career, one student at a time.