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Artificial Intelligence: The Most Unfortunate Buzzword

Agent Smith, one of the AI villains portrayed in The Matrix.

Artificial Intelligence or AI the buzzword suffers from additional unfortunate baggage.

Before delving into said baggage, Silicon Valley marketing types use the keyword AI to represent the machine learning technological movement. Much like its buzzword predecessors the Information Superhighway, the .com era, Web 2.0 or Big Data, AI represents the next significant promise from technology companies.

Machine learning uses data to provide insights, correlations and about a whole variety of tasks, usually mundane or data-rich tasks.If the tasks are repetitive, a software program or robot can replace human effort (and its errors) and free up human resources to pursue other more important jobs.

That’s where the baggage comes in.

What Society Thinks of AI
 
Thanks to an overwhelming body of dystopian and hard science fiction, society already has negative notions of AI. Those preconceived notions vilify robotics and AI, recalling a malevolent sentient machine that’s going to wipe out the human race.

For every movie like Bladerunner 2049 that paints AI in a somewhat neutral light, evil robots and AI dominate the vast majority of blockbusters. Consider staples like 2001, The Terminator, The Matrix, I Robot, and The Avengers: The Age of Ultron.
 
On a much more realistic level, current societal fears revolve around replacing much of the workforce and forcing Americans into increasing levels of poverty. Many Americans in the auto manufacturing industry can testify to the reality of robots replacing them on the assembly line.
 
Reporters and the media outlets seize on this fear and use it to create provocative headlines that exacerbate human worries. That’s not to blame the media. We live in an era where journalists succeed by the amount eyeballs and attention their reports receive. That adds a unique level of tabloid journalism to the story. It’s much easier to discuss job loss and the enslavement of the human race,
 
AI tech companies try to diffuse the argument by classifying current machine learning efforts as weak AI, or non-sentient algorithms. Attempts to produce sentient machines or strong AI will be at least a couple of decades away, they promise.

Are these technology companies employing real marketers? Who came up with the idea of branding a movement AI after Hal or The Terminator? AI might be the most unfortunate choice of buzzwords ever.

Humans are the Problem with AI
 
The real issue with AI revolves around the humans creating it. Can humans build the necessary protection measures to ensure that the machine’s interests will align with ours?

Much of the debate amongst leaders in the AI community primarily concern themselves with addressing this challenge. If AI turns on humanity, it is because the humans who created it did so without ensuring that both our interests and that of the machine were not aligned.
 
Today’s machine learning isn’t close to that. However to discuss it as AI only prevents the average worker from embracing new tools, thus antiquating their skill-sets faster than necessary. Meanwhile, the AI media drama stunts a broader conversation about the future of life on earth, both human and perhaps algorithmic. It’s all so unnecessary.
 
What’s This About?
 
AI may become sentient or able to address any problem of its choosing, what experts call artificial general intelligence (AGI, just what you wanted, another technological acronym). What we are talking about in the marketing sector is not that. Machine learning offers a better term; one used hand-in-hand in conversations about the more massive AI movement.
 
Let me speak from a marketer’s perspective. Yes, we have AI in almost every aspect of our online marketing experience today. From MailChimp bots the optimize the time of delivery, to multivariant testing systems in Eloqua, to our social media algorithms, to our email organizations tools. Heck, even the next generation of vacuums in our homes represent a form of simple AI.
 
To be precise, many forms of simple machine learning fail to impress. As I wrote this, I signed up for a content curation “AI” app and then proceeded to lean into it pretty hard. Within five hours I got spammed three times by the same platform for tutorials on how to start. 
 
What machine learning has provided marketers are opportunities to ease their workload, and better meet their customers. Unfortunately, most marketers use it to find more precise paths to spam with more targeted and heavy-handed conversion communications.

The customer becomes overwhelmed with average and somewhat creepy data-driven communications. The brand experience suffers for it.

Given the current state of machine learning in the space, worries about marketing automation AI and its brethren taking over the world in the next decade seems utterly unfounded to me. However, try convincing the general public of the current benign of AI.

That’s what happens when you choose a very unfortunate buzzword to describe your trend.