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Should marketers have nightmares about electric staff?

In 1991 the director James Cameron unleashed his vision of the near-future, and with it the wrath of Skynet, an automated defence system that would think for itself, and quickly learn anything humans could do, machines could do faster, and more devastatingly.
Thankfully, for now, Terminator 2: Judgment Day remains a work of dystopian science-fiction. Nevertheless, it may not be that far away considering Facebook just pulled the plug on an AI project after the software ditched English in favour of its own language, effectively blocking out the programmers that built it.
For years we have been used to some forms of AI offering a helping hand. But today’s assistance could be tomorrow’s interference, with experts already pointing to a number of jobs that are likely to become obsolete very soon. Some have already been affected; shop check outs are on the wane in favour of automated tills, and is it any surprise services like 118 188 have moved into loans when your mobile can deliver the same information they once provided?
The list of areas AI is having an impact on extends well beyond these, though, and into places we probably wouldn’t have expected so soon. Google has awarded the Associated Press a grant to develop robot reporters in the UK, capable of producing 30,000 regional news stories per month. In the States, a similar idea has already been trialled for sports, business , and other articles centred on numbers and statistics. Amazingly, media readers didn’t notice, so needless to say journalists are worried.
Other parts of the media are also falling under the spell of automation and AI. Chatbots can now field queries from the public via social media- a task that, only a few years ago, would have been performed by a member of staff. Auto-responders take the labour out of thanking people for following your brand.
There are many positions under threat thanks to advances in technology and the ever-present need to find cost savings. It might be expensive to set some of these systems up, but it’s far cheaper than paying an annual salary, year on year, not to mention benefits like holidays, maternity and paternity leave, sick days, and training expenses.
But should marketers have nightmares about electric staff? Perhaps, but then I’m not so sure. Last month, during the Manchester International Festival, pop synth siren Holly Herndon performed a set at Gorilla that was very much focused on humans vs machines- the overall message being that whilst everything about her music has been altered through technology, those effects are only as good as the people who set the parameters. The same applies in media work.
Programmatic advertising, which we have covered on our blog before, provides a very good example. Currently under heavy fire as commercials for legitimate companies are placed next to hate videos and fake news because the algorithms are only concerned with hits, rather than the reputation of the online outlet, it shows why, for the time being at least, we can only place trust in robot thinking if there are intelligent human minds telling those robots how to implement those thoughts.
Ultimately, then, we should embrace the potential of these increasingly-affordable and accessible solutions, which ease the workload and burden placed on our organic colleagues. But woe betide anyone who believes these can fully replace human counterparts; we’re a long way off truly devaluing and locking out living, breathing industry experts, and the expertise and innovation they bring.

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