Smart Technology: Fact or Science Fiction for Marketing?

I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.” Since the HAL 9000 computer turned on his human crew in ‘2001: Space Odyssey’, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has intrigued us. Recently there’s been a lot of excitement about AI in Marketing Technology. As the language of fact and science-fiction have blended, expectations of ‘AI’ capabilities in marketing technology have grown. Whilst it’s clear the technical innovation is heralding a new dawn for marketing, it’s important to remember, no matter how smart, the technology is simply an enabler, marketing must not lose sight of the customer. This blog is a reminder of what all this clever technology really means for marketers today.

Science-Fiction’s Skynet, Hal, Gertie and West World all told us AI was the Killer App seeking world domination and the end of the Human Race. Then it seemed in 2016 some of this sh*t just got real. Self-driving cars are here. Baidu Deep Speech, Google Knowledge Vault, DeepMind Atari Games, Giraffe Chess Player are all very real. Stephen Hawking said “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the Human Race.” So, should we be worried?

Urm. No. Let’s get a grip. Whilst it’s true that MarTech is definitely getting smarter, the real intelligence lies in how this tech is applied and used by Marketers. Let’s sort the fact from fiction and what this all means for marketing.

Smart Technology Facts for 2017

Fact: MarTech Marketers are using language sounding like something out of a World Science Fiction Convention. The language being used to describe the technology’s capabilities include Cognitive Computing, AI, Sentient Technology, Intelligent Technology, cognitive processing, and self-learning machines. And yes, it can speak Klingon.

Fact: Artificial Intelligence (AI) is defined as the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages. It helps human-beings to quickly understand huge amounts of constantly changing information.

Fact: Real-world examples in marketing are:

  • Netflix uses predictive analytics to surface and continually improve its content recommendations.
  • Google uses RankBrain (natural language processing) to help find relevance in content and queries, interpret voice search and user context, to interpret search queries.
  • Google’s algorithm adapts and learns in search, advertising and YouTube recommendations.
  • Facebook are using smart tech to analyse overhead images of topography to find evidence of human life, so that they can use drones and satellites to bring Internet technology to everyone on the planet.
  • The Grid is a website design platform which uses clever image recognition and cropping, an algorithmic palette and typography selection.
  • Dynamic price optimisation, where technology is used to correlate pricing trends with sales trends by using an algorithm, then align with other factors such as category management and inventory levels.
  • Banks and credit card brands can now prevent fraud and data breaches by analysing card usage patterns and device access.

Fact: These systems do not think for themselves, they’re not self-aware or self-conscious, they don’t have common sense or set their own goals, they don’t have feelings, they do not have imagination, they are not sentient. So, “It’s AI, Jim, just not as we know it.” Or at least have come to know it in Sci-Fi films. Instead of AI we call it Smart Technology. It is very smart, but to go as far as to call it ‘AI’ is just a case of over-feeding the already golden goose.

Fact: The reality is that this technology is based on complex analytics systems which are ‘trained’ with large amounts of data against an analytical model. The smartness is based on the fact that these are models programmed with data instead of code. This makes them very efficient and capable of processing enormous amounts of information. They are also capable of outputs which adapt and iterate as they respond to the data they process.

Fact: Although Hal said he’d always been perfect and never made a mistake, the fact is Smart Technology does make mistakes, but these systems are making fewer mistakes now than humans when it comes to classifying data, and the technology is now more accurate than it’s been before.

Fact: The technology is also getting more efficient. When Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov the ‘intelligence’ came from the brute force of 50 million lines of code to see patterns a Human Mind, it turned out, couldn’t see. Since then Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo beat Lee Sedol using neural networks and reinforcement learning, and the Giraffe programme can play chess – on only a few thousand lines of code. What this means is technology can process increasingly more information in increasingly condensed spaces, hence the possibility now of wearable smart technology.

Fact: In 2017 a top priority for marketing will be to improve customer relationships. This means the Killer App for marketing will be how marketers use smart technology to improve customer relationships and make customers happier. Smart Tech will be able to connect dots and spot relationships and behavioural patterns of millions of customers and their millions of interactions and conversations with a brand over time. They will also be able to ‘learn’ to be able to pro-actively act on that insight to do something better. In 2017 brands will grasp the value of smart tech lies in how it can transform a brand’s ability to understand and serve their customers better, working with them to meet their needs. ‘Black Hat Brands’ who try to use this smart technology to coerce, collude and manipulate their customers’ behaviour will fail. Brands who use Smart Tech in a way which delivers value for their customers, will be the winners in this brave new world for marketing.

We’re going to see a lot of dumb applications of this smart tech in the next year or so, when we’ll see: “real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time.”*  We applaud Alan Turing, one of the earliest scientists to explore artificial intelligence, who said: “Those who can imagine anything, can create the impossible.” With Smart Technology, it’s not the gadgets and gizmos you’ve got that matters, it’s what you do with it. It’s up to you to work out how to apply it. In Marketing, be smart: use smart tech to serve your customers better.



*Terry Pratchett