They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!

Evil robots are going to steal our marketing jobs soon. No, wait … Our jobs are safe because robots can’t do everything.

Which is true?

It’s unclear.

Whether the next 10 years will look like “The Terminator,” “2001: A Space Odyssey” or a less-terrifying “Choose Your Own Adventure” is anyone’s guess. Some marketers (who may be kidding themselves) maintain that artificial intelligence (AI) will never replace them. Others see the takeover as imminent.

The truth is probably (definitely?) somewhere in between. The Marketing Artificial Intelligence Institute believes AI is already transforming marketing with tools that help mere mortals develop content strategies, create hyper-targeted campaigns, write copy, convert prospects and analyze data at warp speed.

Machine-based marketing, however, isn’t perfect and the technology is reportedly limited. As this article in The New York Times noted, existing AI systems lack a robust mechanism for drawing inferences. They can’t uncover ideas and the relations between them.

AI can identify statistical trends that guide data-driven marketing, but it can only assess what worked or didn’t work in the past. At least for now, the consensus seems to be that humans are necessary for creativity, imagination and inspiration. AI will free them up to focus on big-picture decision-making instead of number-crunching.

An April 2018 McKinsey study on AI’s potential found that marketing and sales are among the top industries that can benefit from the technology. The biggest areas of opportunity include consumer packaged goods, banking, retail, telecommunications, travel and insurance, McKinsey found. AI can help these organizations understand individual customer preferences and personalize product recommendations.

But the study notes several hurdles that could slow broad implementation of AI technologies, including the fact that machine learning often requires significant manual effort (read: training). Data-related limitations, regulatory obstacles, social acceptance and cost are among the challenges associated with AI adoption.

In other words, machines can’t replace all of us yet. Jobs that involve managing people, applying expertise and interacting with others aren’t made for robots.

Phew …

Some companies, however, are pursuing a hybrid approach in which robots work alongside humans. “Cobots” – collaborative robots – reportedly augment human workers by performing mundane tasks. Many applications are limited and the technology is evolving, but what will happen to human employees when cobots’ thinking and learning improves?

It’s an open question whether AI will become competent enough to take on human cognitive abilities. If that does happen, none of us is safe from obsolescence. That’s right – HAL 9000 is coming for you.

Do you think AI will ultimately help or hurt service-based companies? Does it mean the end of marketing as we know it? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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