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Insight: Can a machine love?

Somewhere around 2009 or so, Google’s chief economist Hal Varian is known to have said, “The sexiest job in the next ten years will be staticistians.” Varian was predicting, correctly, the rise in the importance of data analysis to all aspects of business. Nearly ten years later, Varian’s prediction has proven both prescient and inadequate – and as CIO reports, those sexy data jobs are already being replaced by a new generation of AI tools that may soon render the traditional data analyst role obsolete. As these tools increasingly automate the marketing process, we have to ask – do our customers want a relationship with a machine?
By Rick Ferguson
As CIO’s James Maclennan notes, even Varian may find himself surprised by the exponential growth of business data: 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are produced daily, with 90 percent of that data created in the last two years alone. The need to analyze, intepret, and act upon that data in real time has now far outstripped the ability of human analysts to keep up – a need which in turn has led to the rise of AI and machine learning tools that can analyze vast data sets without the need for human intervention. With computers now analyzing themselves, what role remains for human analysts? Money quote from Maclennan:
“Computers don’t need to sleep or take lunch breaks, making them more efficient than their human counterparts by quite a margin. A data analyst working a 70-hour week doesn’t even begin to compare with the 168 hours a machine can accomplish. This is not even taking into account holidays and sick leave. Another consideration is that computers are cheaper than human resources. With the advent of machine learning, computers are getting more efficient and smarter with more data available to them.”
We used to worry about factory workers being automated out of existence; now we can add worry about PhD-level staticistians being automated out of existence as well. What role will remain for human data analysts in this brave new world? Money quote #2:
“In their historic capacity, data analysts are obsolete… The implication for the data analyst is that they are no longer tasked with analysis as such, but rather interpretation and drawing meaningful inferences from data sets. There might be some merging of analyst and managerial responsibilities in the future. Data analysts have the potential to become agents of change with regard to the skills they bring to the table.”
The dawn of AI and machine learning has no less an impact on the world of customer-centric marketing. With marketers now relying more and more on automated tools to generate predictive algorythms based on transactional and other behavioral data sets, the role of the analyst will change from analyzing the data to interpreting the data to make a human connection with your customers.
In other words: we may be headed for a world in which a machine analyzes the data, generates a predictive algorithm, acts upon that algorithm in real time, dynamically generates a marketing offer, bids on search terms, and then sends that offer to a consumer’s smart phone, all within minutes. Heck, we may already be there.
But marketing is as much an art as a science – and even though computers are already writing sonnets and composing pop songs, our customers are not themselves machines. The uncanny valley is as true a phenomenon in marketing as it is in robotics and computer animation, which means that humans will always seek out a human connection. The role of the data analyst, therefore, will evolve into the role of interpreter: Taking the output of AI and interpreting through a human lens so that the marketing offer creates a warm relationship based on generated feelings of trust, commitment, and reciprocity.
Think of it like this: 90 percent of consumers who listen to music listen to it through digital streaming. The fastest growing segment of the music industry, however, is Thomas Edison’s good old-fashioned vinyl record. That’s because people who really love music – who crave a relationship with it – want to experience it as a tangible, physical object, not as streaming ones and zeroes. That desire for connection is something that machines will never be able to replicate. The role of the marketer will likewise be to leverage AI to create real, tangible, and human-based relationships with your best customers.
Rick Ferguson is CEO and Editor in Chief of the Wise Marketer Group.

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