Digital Essay 2019 – Tech 101: how to be “human”, by Nader Bitar, MMP World Wide

By Nader Bitar, Deputy GM, MMP World Wide

Class is now in session. Everyone sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin. Artificial Intelligence is probably the world’s most overused buzzword in digital today, and yet it’s a crucial piece of the technological puzzle in helping us transition to the next phase of human evolution. Now, before you start imagining some cartoonish robot-hybrid being, I’m talking more about how we view, classify and interact with technology today.

The many misconceptions surrounding AI’s capabilities and what this will mean in the future have made our relationship with this technology complex. Yet think about how we have used it from a brand perspective over the years, creating new and innovative campaigns that have given businesses a new way to connect with their audiences. One of my favorites is Nike’s ‘design your own sneakers’ initiative, which allowed consumers to get creative inside the store. Clever marketing gimmick aside, consider the plethora of useful data that the algorithms would have been able to collect, using it to inform future marketing messages and improve customisation.

Then you have the likes of powerhouse Amazon, often looking to solve an emerging need with its technology. The Amazon Go convenience stores are a good example of this. By recording every interaction and reaction, whilst monitoring products on the shelves with ceiling sensors and cameras powered by AI, Amazon has been able to eliminate every consumer’s least favourite part of shopping, waiting in the queue to check out.

I could go on forever listing examples, but the simple truth is we just don’t give enough credit to AI’s many accomplishments, or indeed the creative human mind that has helped shape these incredible concepts. Technology has become so embedded in our daily routine that we barely notice it has become an extension of us, easing our lifestyle more than we realise. With this in mind, let’s take a step back and identify the role-reversal that comes with being a human in a tech-led world today.

Think about when you last had an internet-free day, didn’t order food for delivery, send an email or stream content. Chances are it was probably in the pre-smartphone era. The point is, we have become so attached to a specific way of living and the choices just keep on coming. Wearables, hearables, smart appliances, multiple apps, trackers, sensors… and that’s just for starters. In the future, it will be almost impossible to avoid smart technology if we want to keep engaging with our favourite services and products. As such, we need to continuously adapt to this world now moulded by technology, and not the other way around.

However, before we start attacking AI and co. with virtual pitchforks, I need to be clear that this doesn’t make technology the enemy. I don’t envision a future where we are fighting machines for dominance. Rather, we should be using them as a tool for empowerment. From an ad tech perspective, the devil is in the details in how we work, pairing the right human mind with the appropriate technology to achieve the most effective outcome. Algorithms may help us become more aware of how things are working, yet we still need human insight to fill in the blanks, which then shapes up the efficiency of the industry over all.

Still, there are things we can improve on: broadening our outlook, to begin with. We’re still far too focused on our own vision, making decisions that don’t consider other stakeholder objectives. Technology is the key to closing this gap. Think about how our working lives have become that much faster and more efficient since adding automation into the office. Our minds are now free to do what they were meant to do: be creative.

So, what comes next? The robot revolution? Sure, maybe in the very, very distant future, but even then it still remains too theoretical and complex to envision what this would mean for us as humans. The here and now is what matters, and where AI sits today – whether that’s on apps, social media, TV shows, OTT platforms, emails, gaming, music or e-commerce – it’s fundamentally changing every industry as we know it.

Understanding the opportunities that AI can afford will be crucial for businesses if they want to thrive in this digital world. Previous misconceptions must be discounted so this technology can be viewed without bias, looking at what investments must be made to ensure success, considering the impact they will have on the intended audience and/or community in tandem. In media, for instance, we readily accept AI’s role, but do we appreciate how essential it is to improving the campaign transaction, preventing fraud and ensuring brand safety? I guarantee that day-to-day this thought won’t even pass through our minds.

Ultimately, if you’re smart then you will recognise the huge potential in leveraging human intelligence to advance AI further. Greater efficiencies are a given, but imagine the creative possibilities that could come from greater cooperation between all parties involved. We may be humans in a tech-led world, but that’s all the more reason to be excited for what lies ahead.