Strategies & Tactics

Tech Crunch: What Communicators Need to Know About Artificial Intelligence

January 5, 2018

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When you think of artificial intelligence, you might imagine pop culture’s most memorable representations of the technology: the robot Dolores’ growing sentient awareness in the HBO show “Westworld,” Arnold Schwarzenegger’s iconic android character in the “Terminator” movies, or the sweetly persistent machine in “WALL-E.”

But the artificial intelligence that we know from movies — the near-human, responsive, interactive figure — won’t exist for decades. (For perspective, we’re just starting to see major progress based on the foundational AI algorithms first developed more than 60 years ago.)

In short, artificial intelligence is not going to steal your communications gig anytime soon. But machine learning — the ability of computers to find hidden insights from massive amounts of data without being explicitly programmed in where to look — is starting to transform our field. It’s useful to know where we are with the technology and what’s coming next.

Our need to understand the market landscape is more relevant today than ever before. Globalization has given brands opportunities to reach new markets, while also bringing significant new problems that can’t be ignored. Many companies are ill-equipped to identify and address these challenges swiftly.

The old adage that it takes a tanker at sea about five miles to stop — and another third of a mile to turn — can be analogous for decades-old companies. Even when leadership recognizes the need for change, as they often do, it’s daunting to shift the course of a traditional internal culture. Many companies are used to a simpler world in which selling goods and services was the point and only limited channels existed, and where issues spread primarily via news reporters.

Such thinking is outmoded in today’s world, where selling products and services can sometimes feel almost incidental to the demands of human rights organizations, student activist groups, angry consumers and other voices. In the era of social media and digital communications, these newly vocal constituencies have many avenues by which they can organize, express themselves and pick up visible public momentum. (In many cases, of course, such engagement rightly pushes companies to be better and do better.)

Right now, this onslaught of communication stems mainly from social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Reddit, etc. But new channels are on the horizon, and will bring more data and pressure with them.

Augmented intelligence

Artificial intelligence today is best understood as augmented intelligence — an enhancement of our own capabilities, versus a separate entity acting autonomously. You experience augmented intelligence every day, from Spotify anticipating new music you might like to a house that adjusts its temperature based on your habits, thanks to Nest.

Augmented intelligence will become more prominent in your work life because you’ll engage with it daily out of sheer necessity. An easy case in point: Let’s say that five new articles pop up about your brand. People are far better than machines at reading, absorbing, grasping the context and then outlining the tone, salient points and implications for our brands.

But we now live in a world where 350,000 tweets appear every minute — and that’s just on one social media platform. All of those messages present far too much data for you to sift through, identify the themes and influencers and continue monitoring. But augmented intelligence is great at precisely these kinds of tasks: taking large, ever-changing data sets, continuously analyzing them and discerning patterns for your review and understanding.

Another way to look at it: You wouldn’t use a nail gun to hang a painting, because a hammer and nail would suffice. But if you were installing a new roof, the nail gun would be the common-sense option.

There are times when you need a power tool. In a growing number of cases, augmented intelligence will serve as your nail gun, making you exponentially more capable of maximizing opportunities and mitigating threats to brand reputation.

What’s next?

It’s hard to know precisely what forms augmented intelligence will take in our field, but we have a good sense of what might come next. Machine learning will help us anticipate what people want. We’ll get better at guiding consumers to purchase and at curating news feeds. In media and social intelligence, real-time predictive capability will move to the fore.

As algorithms become more sophisticated, we’ll likely see new systems that not only alert users to growing crises, but also predict ebbs and flows of those events. We may see technologies that are smart enough to move beyond identifying influencers for a brand’s issues to suggesting semantics designed to appeal to those influencers, based on their own public communications.

Such technology might even predict new influencer archetypes or identify tangential issues in other industries that will have crossover impacts.

One thing is certain: Machine learning will become central to our working lives. It’s time to think creatively about how we can use this emerging technology to our advantage. 

Josh Ginsberg

Josh Ginsberg is CEO and co-founder of Zignal Labs, a media and social intelligence company. He’s also a veteran of three presidential campaigns. Follow him @joshginsberg.

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