Good and Bad vs. Right and Wrong

Artificial Intelligence for marketing, what a great idea!

After 40 years in marketing, I have learned that I am not a representative of whatever market I am trying to reach. My very best guess is only as good as the next guy’s, and it is still only a guess.

With the advent of digital analytics, I can now switch my terminology to “experiment” and “hypothesis” and suddenly, I’m a modern marketing marvel.

But why not go further?

Why not let the machine decide? With multivariate testing, dynamic content serving, cross-device behavioral tracking and, well, big data, why not just grab all the data you can, toss it into the technology-du-jour, and let the machine choose the right message to put in front of the right person at the right time?

What could possibly go wrong?

An algorithm at Facebook created a “This was your year, why not share it?” montage and blasted it out to everybody, including the father of a daughter whose recent death was still an open wound. In a Network World article, Mark Gibbs posits:

So, imagine the AIs doing their thing, looking for patterns, and testing engagement strategies. Without knowing as a human would that it’s detecting people having affairs. they create a category that reflects just that and then test strategies for advertising and wind up advertising to cheaters’ ““official”” partners things like detective services and spy gear. When these ads start to get traction the AIs, without actually understanding the correlation, will rate the strategies as highly successful and therefore keep refining it.

Dennis Mortensen deals with this up close and personally on a daily basis with his start-up, where his team has built an intelligent agent named Amy who schedules meetings over email. It’s very clever and requires no app or calendar – it’s all on email.

Even with such a narrowly focused task, Amy runs into problems that require further “training.” Dennis related the latest, on mapping out the lessons humans know about reminders, encouraging people to reply to a meeting request.

“Her current logic is extremely sophisticated,” writes Dennis on his blog, “but it is also initiated by the human executive Amy works for. We wanted to make sure that we did not replicate the tale of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice… If I tell Amy to ‘set up a meeting with Matt as soon as possible,’ would she push a reminder every 10 minutes until Matt responds?”

A Hammer Is Not a Carpenter

Just remember that, like other forms of analytics, AI is a useful tool but not a replacement for decision-making. Keep these three quotes in mind, from the movies, from literature, and from academia:

From Michael Rappa, Ph.D., Goodnight Director of the Institute for Advanced Analytics and Distinguished University Professor North Carolina State University:

The ability to collect, analyze, and store data in perpetuity has created a world in sharp contrast to how the mind has evolved to cope with everyday life. Forgetting (and recollecting) are inherently human qualities, and arguably necessary in a social context. To help people negotiate the digital universe, we need to invent algorithms that mimic in useful ways how we function as human beings.

From The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft:

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

From the movie iRobot based on the book by Isaac Asimov:

Detective Del Spooner: …The truck smashed our cars together and pushed us into the river. You know, metal gets pretty pliable at those speeds. She’s pinned, I’m pinned, the water’s coming in. I’m a cop, so I know everybody’s dead. Just a few minutes until we figure that out. NS4 was passing by and jumped in the river.

Susan Calvin: The robot’s brain is a difference engine. It’s reading vital signs. It must have done…

Detective Del Spooner: It did. I was the logical choice. It calculated that I had a 45 percent chance of survival. Sarah only had an 11 percent chance. That was somebody’s baby. Eleven percent is more than enough. A human being would’ve known that. Robots, [indicating his heart] nothing here, just lights and clockwork. Go ahead, you trust ’em if you want to.

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