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‘Looks like artificial intelligence is here to stay’ writes Luca Allam, general manager of PHD Dubai

When Robert Zemeckis, director and co-writer of the Back to the Futurefranchise, imagined this very day (October 21, 2015) three decades ago, he pictured that we would have drones walk our dogs, eyewear embedded with virtual reality capabilities and the use of biometrics to verify our identities.

Thirty years on, the future has arrived and there are some very strong similarities with what Zemeckis had conceived; we have certainly advanced by leaps and bounds since 1985. Today, smartphones and other connected devices guide our every waking hour and technology augments our skills and capabilities, both for work and leisure.

A year doesn’t go by without the appearance of new technological developments promising to transform the way we live, work and play.

What we can foresee today about the future that is yet to come is the increasing role artificial intelligence (AI) is and will keep on playing in our lives. Today, AI already lives in our pockets, thanks to smartphone developers or popular social media platforms.

You will have heard of Siri but it is being joined by others. Facebook recently launched a new virtual personal assistant (VPA) called M. It finds information on your behalf and completes tasks, including purchasing items, having gifts delivered to loved ones and making reservations or travel arrangements, to name just a few.

Microsoft has Cortana and Google has its own version too.

All the tech giants are investing in AI platforms to enhance the user experience and add utility to their consumers’ lives. The age of AI is definitely upon us and is here to stay. It’s no wonder therefore that future-facing events discuss the developments in, applications and implications of AI in their own sector.

For example, PHD’s annual BrainScape conference drew marketers’ attention to the impact AI will have on their trade and the way consumers will interact with brands in the not-so-distant future. We also published a book on the subject, Sentience.

Technology and automation have already had profound effects on the industry. The days of mass advertising appear to be counted and advertising clutter is becoming a thing of the past. Today, we live in age of real-time advertising, thanks to the high level of insights we collect on consumers that then inform our targeting strategies.

We are now able to serve our target audience with the right message, at the right place, at the right time and in the right context, thereby taking effectiveness scores and RoI (return on investments) to new heights. Advertising is becoming increasingly tailored and personalised. And we haven’t even started to factor in the role of AI in the collection of more granular data on consumers, their situation and emotional state to target them more effectively with the best possible message.

As VPAs (virtual personal assistants) become more integral to our lives, they will largely be supported by ads, making marketing one of the first industries to be disrupted by AI. Not only will they be the closest and most personal medium to reach consumers, they will also possess the highest level of contextual details about them.

Since VPAs will also be making purchase decisions on our behalf and filtering the messages we receive, as part of their life-enhancing mission, the path to conversion will now include brand, device and VPA.

In this new era, brands and agencies will be targeting machines more and humans less, once they learn to speak the language of algorithms. This means the skill sets of marketers will have to change, involving more data and algorithm specialists. Some of it will be an evolution from the current scenario.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems and Data Management Platforms (DMP) will increasingly become one to enhance the accuracy of our targeting capabilities. Eventually, first-party, proprietary data will drive all marketing activities. Agencies will effectively become the technology architects for brands, enabling them to speak the language of their consumers more fluently and seamlessly.

Humans will still have a large role to play in this new age of the machine, since algorithms can only give us answers and not the explanation behind them. It will be our job to interpret the answers and tweak algorithms as necessary, as navigators steering the way forward.

The output of our work will certainly be enhanced, given the level of “brain power” that we will have at our finger tips. Both human and artificial intelligence will continue to become smarter as we progress, complementing each other’s strengths and compensating for their weaknesses.

As a depiction of what’s yet to come, ‘Back to the Future: Part II’ was as fun as it was approximate. You will find a more accurate vision of the future of marketing in ‘Minority Report’. With its ability to give better answers, AI is certainly something to look forward to.