Are robots better than humans?

This was a question put to 4 CMOs at CMO Inspired, an event Born + Raised attended recently. All of them responded no to the yes/no question and the conversation moved on without chance for explanation or discussion.

The question really stuck with me as my mind pulled up images from I, Robot and Blade Runner. Then I remembered that Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning are already hard at work. Sure, not the Hollywood kind but Netflix knows the type of shows I like and Facebook recognises faces.

I don’t doubt AI will radically change many industries, but what impact will it have on ours, and will I be around to see it?

I decided to put this question to the office and get the team’s opinion, because the great things about big questions like this is that they start a proper discussion and we all learn new things.

People had such passionate responses that I asked them to write them down, so I could collect them into a blog and share them with you.

Fast forward and here we are – you’re reading the blog. Here’s what we think of the question Will AI take over jobs in our industry in our lifetime?

Chloe Lowe, Head of Digital

I’m still tracking the successes and failures of early adopters through sources such as Campaign Magazine and Econsultancy and, understandably, I’m yet to see AI at the top of the agenda for a number of our clients. I think it’s fair to say that I’ve experienced much more of the impact of AI as a consumer than as a Head of Digital.

The primary reason I don’t believe AI will replace my job role within my lifetime is two-fold.

Firstly, the ‘human factor’ (best described by Chief Marketer here) is absolutely critical to the successful delivery of a project. Data and technology play a pivotal role in what we do, but creative and rational thinking alongside strategic planning and co-ordinating multi-channel activation are equally as important. And AI just can’t achieve all of those things without us – yet.

Secondly, I’m concerned that many brands will need to adapt heavily in order to prepare themselves for the successful integration of AI. Slow or inefficient ways of working (just one consideration) will prevent them becoming the well-oiled, insightful and successful marketing team that AI provides so much hope for.

In conclusion, will it save money in our lifetime? I think so. Will it improve efficiency? Of course. Will it save time? I hope so. Will it replace my job? Not in my lifetime.

Charlotte Hill, Client Services Director

AI will undoubtedly change the way client services work but hopefully in a positive way through tools that can help with planning, budgeting, organising. In addition, for utilisation of data, measurement and evaluation, and feeding those into developing strategy, assisting in research and underpinning insight I’d anticipate that AI will have a significant impact on both the work we do for clients and what clients are able to utilise in their own projects.

However, and this is probably not the first time you’ll read this in the context of AI, I’d like to think there’s a human element to our job that simply can’t be replicated. Thankfully this viewpoint was echoed by Professor Tomo of Shizenkhan University at an IESE business school Future Management Conference in Barcelona in April who said that “establishing vision, aligning people and motivating people requires people”.

Essentially, account management and delivering brilliant client service requires a level of emotional intelligence, charisma, drive, a holistic viewpoint and deep understanding of our clients as individuals and as a business that, certainly at the moment, AI cannot provide.

Bew Knox, Creative Director

I can understand how AI could dominate large areas of more logic-based professions like law or accountancy where there are few grey areas, but creativity? Surely not!

After all, art, film, music, design, the written word and (dare I say) advertising are a mirror for the human condition. They require a deep understanding of profound emotions to create.

Or do they?

Emotions are programmed into us from birth, so doesn’t it follow that if a machine is equally well programmed it could at least understand emotions?

AI art is already being pegged as the next great art movement, with pieces being auctioned at Christies New York estimated at $10,000.

Saatchi & Saatchi released a film at Cannes in 2016 that was conceived, directed and edited using AI platforms including Watson and Ms_Rinna.

As for my role as Creative Director, it’s already had a shot across the bow. In 2016 McCann Erickson Tokyo created an AI-CD. They programmed it to take on a human CD in the ultimate creative battleground. TV advertising.

You can see the creative results here. *Spoiler alert* In a public vote the Human CD won, but only just! Will the Creative Director be made redundant by AI in my lifetime? I don’t think so, but it’s definitely on the cards.

Once AI becomes capable of the independent, random, weird, illogical and sometimes accidental ways of thinking that makes us human, it will be a different story.

Steve Doyle, Head of Copy

Ultimately, I think pure creativity is effective precisely because it’s non-linear, abstract and difficult to recreate artificially.

For example, could AI ever really know exactly which cultural reference to draw upon from my 1970s childhood, or pick the most appropriate line from exactly the right movie? And then could it add just the right linguistic spin to get the target audience nodding and smiling in shared understanding and amusement? Maybe. Maybe not.

So I suspect the majority of creative jobs are fairly safe for a few decades, as long as we all keep abreast of the tech and don’t get left behind.

Undoubtedly, AI will create new job roles and change the shape of most existing ones. What AI will do is automate onerous tasks and free us all up to do the value-added stuff, so that can only be good. We’ll all need to be prepared to embrace change.

Are jobs at risk? Less so than some other industries, I suspect. Some aspects of client services and digital could become more automated, there’s no doubt about that. Maybe some aspects of design could also be automated. But at the end of the day, we work in a very human business where personal relationships, and creativity are key.

Abbas Arezoo, Senior Digital Developer

Automation already plays a role in my development process and has for a few years, so I’m not worried about the immediate impact. If anything, it’s made life a lot easier – allowing me to concentrate on the aspects of my job that I enjoy the most.

From a creative standpoint, the majority of creative work is inspired by something and, whether we like it or not, we creatives follow trends and styles.

Some of the machine learning concepts I’ve researched are trained in exactly the same way. So I can see a future where you input a brief into a machine and the machine provides an output.

This could result in some skilled positions becoming redundant, or less valued from a cost point of view. We could also see work priced depending on who, or what, created it. I think we are closer to this environment than a lot of people like to think.

Andy Weir, Managing Director

Yes, it has already happened, hasn’t it? Within media planning, buying and targeting in particular. But in a creative agency like ours? In short, I hope not, but there will undoubtedly be some evolution of roles with the help of AI to create better efficiencies and streamlines processes.

But until we decide to let AI make all our decisions for us, then we will always need a human involved, and importantly, creative ones. Because if you want to get a human to do something, you’re going to need original thought, or invention, to not only surprise, and delight, but inspire and encourage another human to act. And in my opinion, in my lifetime, only humans will be capable of that.

Tanya Addy, Marketing Manager

wrote last year on the insights shared by Stephen Fry and Steffan Aquarone at the Festival of Marketing. They had an overarching message, which I carry with me to this day – give the boring jobs to robots and focus on creativity.

In the world of marketing, AI and machine learning are perfectly placed to act as enablement tools. Born of human invention, the technologies are designed as a support to, not a replacement of, human skills. Technology’s ability to process detailed information faster than humans is helpful – not scary. Likewise, its ability to learn and improve its accuracy is pretty handy.

This information can only serve to help those working in our industry. Thinking about how to apply that data however, I believe, will (or at least should) remain in the human domain. AI helps marketers to make better decisions, informs stronger strategies and can help ensure our creative outputs are grounded in truth.

So will AI take over? No. Make us better at our jobs? Absolutely.

Yvette Weir, Head of Design

The role of the graphic designer is continually evolving, and our industry has faced some momentous upheavals in a relatively short time, and in my time!

The introduction of the Apple Mac in 1984, the World Wide Web opening to the public in 1991, and now the introduction of AI. We have not only survived, but we thrived in the digitisation era. Our craft has changed, and is about to take another hit, but with technological advancements giving us more time to be creative in our roles, whilst massively reducing the mundane, repetitive tasks that come with it, surely it can’t be a bad thing.

So what’s with the bots – should we be worried?  Should we take heed the warnings of Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk. Hawking warned that artificial intelligence “could outsmart us all” and “be the end of mankind”. Musk has likened the use of AI to “summoning the demon”, and described it as “more dangerous than nuclear weapons”.

Whilst the above sounds pretty damning, I believe, in my somewhat limited knowledge, that this technology will allow new ways to express our creativity – we will work alongside each other, the designers and the bots.

Will they takeover? Not in my working life… but that’s as far as I dare guess.

Sam Lightfinch, Copywriter

If the copy of the future is going to be penned by the non-existent hands of AI, then maybe I’ll specialise as a human copywriter who masquerades as a bot. Sounds silly, right? Well someone’s already done it for Burger King.

The truth is, there’s AI out there today that can write. Gmail suggests replies to my emails. It’s not quite captured my tone yet, but it works for whizzing off a curt reply when I’m on the train.

Then there’s Phrasee – the AI that writes better subject lines, Facebook ads and push messages than humans. I don’t want to pay for it to take it on in a word war and lose, but the (presumably) human-written copy on its website makes it sound very good – it can outperform me 98% of the time, apparently.

I’m sure it’s a service that adds value for plenty of brands, but copywriting is a skill that runs a lot deeper than picking the right words. I don’t think AI can match human creativity just yet.

Oh, and to answer your question – I believe AI will play a role in our industry in my lifetime, but it’ll just be a shiny tool in my copywriter arsenal, tucked between thesaurus.com and my fidget cube.