Humans and Robots: Better Together

At the recent AT&T Business Summit, experts in artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and big data extolled the virtues of all that advanced technology provides us. Thermostats order groceries, trucks tell drivers when to take breaks, and the CIA mines social media data in the name of national security. Or so they claim. This discussion got us thinking about how people fit into the proliferation of robots and machines.

With every technology update, it seems there’s an accompanying push back. Automation replaces jobs as Facebook reads our minds. We dream of and dread the impending robot dystopia we’ll be forced to endure. The more machines learn to learn, the greater the chance they’ll eventually turn on us, right? Regardless of a person’s connection to IoT, AI and the like, it seems humans and machines are opposing forces meant to replace one another. But that’s not necessarily the case.

As marketers, we can help businesses understand how to use both effectively, including within our own walls. There are lessons to be learned all around. Specifically:

Optimizing repetition

Advanced, connected technology has a place in virtually every business. The key to successful implementation is determining what processes are repeatable, and where data can be collected. Those are the areas IoT and AI make the biggest difference. Machines can quickly learn and execute specific steps, as with real-time bidding in media placements, automated marketing systems and retargeting ads to consumers. These processes save time and eliminate errors people are more prone to making.

Mechanizing information

As they carry out these processes, machines are masters at collecting massive amounts of data quickly and accurately, outpacing human capability. This provides businesses, and especially marketers, access to increasingly rich and extensive data sets. They can also scour them quickly in search of trends or abnormalities. Any deviation raises a flag that warns of a potential issue.

However, the data sets machines can build and parse quickly are susceptible to noise. Robots can’t always tell when a data point is acceptable or a sign of a larger problem. Automated ad purchasing may suggest sites quickly and efficiently, but if they’re at odds with a brand’s positioning, or explicit and elicit, only people can step in to ensure a mistake isn’t made. A major retailer even sent targeted coupons to a customer who fit the profile for expectant mothers – but the customer was a teenage girl, revealing to her family that she was pregnant. The oversight created a backlash from people upset that their use of data went too far. As consumers accept the reliance on digital automation, the personal touch and human filter from a brand becomes critically important.

Driven by data, delivered personally

Robert Cardillo, Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, was asked how he balances incorporating machine capabilities without detracting from his employees. He noted that automation needs to elevate an analyst in order to amplify the analysis. That can only happen when a human is in charge. Often the answer lies in what isn’t in the data. What’s missing is often as important as what is there. A robot or algorithm can’t figure that out. But it’s intuitive for a human.

Applying nuanced problem-solving to rapid, efficient processes allows for the greatest production at the highest level of skill. Machines can help us recognize potential issues faster, giving people more time to diagnose situations and offer solutions. But relying too much on the robots subtracts the value of logic that only a human can provide. Because while people accept and understand the role of machines and big data in their lives, they’re still more likely to trust another person.