Artificial Intelligence: The Good, the Bad, and the Orwellian

Artificial Intelligence: The Good, the Bad, and the Orwellian

By: Lindsay Bell
March 11, 2016

Artificial Intelligence The Good, the Bad, and the OrwellianThink Artificial Intelligence (AI) doesn’t affect you? Believe you’ve got no skin in the machine learning game? Spoiler alert: If you’re on the grid, odds are you’ve made decisions that interacted with an intelligent machine—and not maybe this year or this month, but today. AI is embedded into the financial markets, tracks your Internet browsing habits, among a host of other examples. And, if you’re a business owner or master brand marketer (or both—gold star!), you could be learning a little something as we go along.

Intrigued? Good. A little creeped out? Even better. Let’s take a look at AI—what it means to your business today, and what it means to all of humanity tomorrow.

AI: Current State of Affairs

If I had to sum up the relationship between AI and brands today, I’d probably use a catchy little rhyme like this one:

AI and Marketing/

Sitting in a Tree/

W—O—R—K—I—N—G.

Sorry, couldn’t resist. I’m still a third-grader at heart. But seriously—the state of AI and marketing today is that they’re playing nicely together in the sandbox (maybe not kissing…yet), and there are oodles of real-world companies we all love that are diving in with both feet. Here’s just a sample:

  • Apple: My favourite tech company just acquired a startup called Emotient that has the technology to recognize emotions in faces captured on video (dear God), even getting past obstacles like bad lighting, poor webcams, or confusing facial hair. It works through a browser or an API and relies on deep learning, a kind of AI that trains artificial neural networks on data before directing them to make inferences on new data. (Just think what this could mean for the future of mobile!) Other leading brands have also keyed in on this technology. You may have heard of one or two of these: Snapchat, Microsoft, Pinterest, Facebook, Google, make the list, to name a few. Pretty powerful bedfellows, wouldn’t you say?
  • Google: The search giant uses AI to give predictive responses that assist with single-tap email responses, and can recommend content based on your data habits or predict your destination in traffic based on your commonly traveled routes. Basically, it knows where you’re *probaby* trying to go or what you’re *probably* trying to search for, and it helps you get there.
  • Facebook: The Twitter-killer (I know, I know, that’s debatable) hopes to foster more connections using machine learning to improve the predictive relevancy of its newsfeed algorithm, and by making the messenger feature smarter. Plus, Zuckerberg recently set a personal challenge to build an AI system that would not only run the complicated tasks within his home, but also recognize his friends and invite them in the front door. HA! How much plastic surgery do I have to get to be a doppelganger for one of Zuck’s besties? Too bad Canadian healthcare doesn’t cover that. I bet his house rocks.

What’s Next for AI and Businesses?

The above describe three very different AI initiatives by three very different (and massive) companies. If you break it all down to fundamentals, though, the big three above are simply leveraging AI to meet a shared goal—to be intuitive with users, anticipating and fulfilling needs in a way that’s almost sci-fi—efficient. Simply put, they’re aiming to become more intuitively useful to their consumer base, a consideration especially vital to a generation of customers who have shorter-than-ever attention spans. As a brand marketer, you best be paying attention. These efforts (and many others like them) will shape how consumers discover, perceive, and hitch themselves onto your bandwagons.

The point is clear—whether your experience with AI involves launching programs in the workforce or binge-watching sci-fi flicks on Netflix, it doesn’t matter. You’d better get prepared.

How? Start by embracing a predictive search strategy and working with already-intuitive applications (like Google Now and Maps) to get the emotional connection ball rolling. Embrace big data like it’s the only thing that’s going to keep your company afloat (because, in a few short years, it just might be!), and then—and probably most importantly—skip on big brand messaging low on substance and focus instead on what’s relevant contextually to what your users need (whether they’ve told you so or not).

What’s Next for AI and Civilization?

Robots are doing jobs that used to be completed by real-flesh people taking home paychecks. AI is already here and getting smarter. So what? If a human thought it up, a human will always be in control of it—right? Welllll….no. In fact, that couldn’t be more incorrect. And that’s where AI, for all it’s “coolness innovation factor” really does give me pause. The BBC predicts that AI will have some “…very real human consequences . . . (will) raise new ethical questions, expose some of our flawed laws and potentially change our relationships with one another.”

Yikes.

Perhaps the scariest quote from the BBC, though, is this one “The ‘machine learning’ algorithms that fuel so much of modern life already are often inscrutable; even their designers don’t really know how they form decisions.”

Read that again: “Even their designers don’t really know how they form decisions.”

Double yikes.

That got heavy pretty quickly, eh? Honestly, the science geek in me loves AI for being an absolutely fascinating and essentially open-ended industry—even world altering—tool. The human in me, though, is doing what I do best—playing Devil’s Advocate. (I’m the queen of playing Devil’s Advocate, FYI. Just ask Shelly or Dan.)

I guess I’m trying to lighten the mood, but it truly is a fine line—when will it go too far? Will we even realize when it does? Can we become too immersed in—or even broken by (cue Orwell’s Winston, poor fellow)—this sort of paralyzingly all-knowing tech-sphere?

Put another, more cataclysmic way, can over-innovation become our culture detonation? Do we really need sensors and machines to be able to intuit our thoughts and feelings? After all, words have always sufficed before. If AI transcends into Big Brother in a way that appears to be the next best thing for society, I’m worried the masses will buy it without vetting. People do have a tendency these days to be lulled into complacency by the latest shiny object.

Seriously, though—mind-poison (even involuntarily) disguised as thoughtful innovation or the “next best tech” has the potential to spread like an indiscriminate cancer. With the recent advances in AI (heck, fast forward ten years!), those who aren’t infected will be unable to hide their true selves even if they wanted to. What if world powers shift? Resistance movements are toppled due to AI driven intelligence? What if turning machines on and off literally morphs into turning people on and off….!!??

Ok, phew, calm down Lindsay. I’ll admit, I’ve been watching a lot of Black Mirror, Mr. Robot, and The Man in the High Castle lately (dystopian alternate universes, anyone?). I’m sure there are a lot of people way smarter than I am already having theses types of philosophical discussions.

If this is all starting to sound Orwellian, that’s because it is Orwellian. We already live in Orwell’s 1984, with cameras everywhere and our every move scoped and tracked. And while I love technology because of its power to change how we do business and how we live our lives, as silly as some of what I wrote about sounds, it behooves us all to play Devil’s Advocate periodically, lest we blink and lose control.

What do you think? I hope I haven’t given you nightmares. I do hope, though, that you’ve come away with a few points worth pondering. How do you interface with AI in your business life? What about on a personal level? When you close your eyes and consider AI years from now, do you see light or dark? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Additional Resources on this Topic:

The Future of Work: Managing the Benefits and Risks of Artificial Intelligence
Scientists Warn that Robots and Artificial Intelligence Could Eliminate Work
Future Ready: Augmented Reality Revolutionizes How We Work

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