A deep dive into artificial intelligence this week looking at some of the announcements about what is possible today as well as a look into the future disruption of the workplace.
The possibilities from artificial intelligence are picking up steam again (did it ever really stop?).
Airing on YouTube later today, Google CEO, Sundar Pichai and Youtube CEO Susan Wojcicki are interviewed on the successes and challenges tech is bringing to the workforce today.
We already know one soundbite from Sundar in the interview:
Artificial intelligence will be more profound than electricity or fire.
He also talked about how much we already use artificial intelligence in our day to day lives. Just yesterday, someone was stunned at how easily I could find a photo from a few years ago thanks to Google Photo’s ability to recognise objects in a photo.
Popular definition of artificial intelligence remains something out of a Jetsons cartoon though and this definition has been generations in the making. Rosie the robot, from the aforementioned cartoon first appeared all the way back in 1962. The result is that stories of what artificial intelligence can do in discrete situations get extrapolated beyond what is actually possible.
What is possible today though is still astounding.
Microsoft recently showed that artificial intelligence can imagine a bird from a short piece of text: “Create a bird that is red and white with a very short beak.”
The result is the image below.
There is clearly plenty of imagination going on in that photo – nowhere was the shape of the bird mentioned, nor that it should be placed on a branch.
However, the researchers showed that this imagination came from historical knowledge of vast numbers of photos viewed. More images showed birds on a branch than flying. So really this is more literal imagination and human-like imagination. When the researchers suggested drawing a bus floating on a lake, it struggled.
This still opens up potential new tools bringing new opportunities. This for example might eventually change the meaning of stock photography or allow Photoshop to fix images quickly.
Just last week, Photoshop rolled out an AI tool to select objects within an image – something that was a laborious task in the past.
Some might contend that it cannot do it as well as if it was done manually and that is probably true but it is unlikely to be noticeable in most scenarios.
By far the majority required human intervention and clearly it didn’t look like that was going to improve anytime soon.
The use of people alongside the machine was positioned as a way to accelerate past the efforts of Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa, who had a significant head start. In the end the general purpose approach of the assistant proved to be its downfall.
It highlights how far away technology is today from truly understanding us, despite what you read in the press.
It was also text based rather than the voice activated approach of Amazon and Google’s offerings. It feels much more natural to ask an assistant questions rather than open an app and type in requests. I’d rather just go to the Uber app and press a few buttons. That may just be my preference though as I don’t live inside my mobile messaging apps.
Regardless, Facebook M is no more whilst Alexa and Google Assistant go from strength to strength. For now, the general purpose chatbox is put out to pasture, whilst smart assistants rule the day.
Chatbots vs Smart Assistants?
At first glance, other than the voice capability of smart assistants, they look pretty much the same.
They are different. Very different in my eyes.
The smart assistant is a new interface to technology in the same way the mouse transformed computer interfaces and the app changed the mobile experience.
Chatbots are a layer built on top of the app or web interface, whilst the smart assistant is a revolution in the way we quickly retrieve/process information.
That is not to say smart assistants will completely replace the mouse or the mobile app, but some types of apps will surely disappear.
So if smart assistants are the future and not chatbots, is this the end of the chatbot?
The end of the chatbot?
No. Despite the huge sales of smart assistants we are still far away from them being ubiquitous. The app interface and the web are going to be the major way we interact with companies for many years to come.
They also reduce the load on call centres, which saves companies money and is I suspect one of the primary motivators behind adoption.
Gartner thinks that by 2020, chatbots will be handling nearly 85% of customer queries – that would lead to a significant cost saving overall and the decimation of the call centre industry.
Regardless, the foundations of the technology behind the chatbot is not far from the technology required to integrate into smart assistants so the investment is likely to be positive into the future also.
Even better, it gives companies benefits today. People are increasingly savvy about using messaging apps and, unsurprisingly, would prefer to get answers to their queries quickly without hanging around on hold to companies.
Chatbots can deliver on this promise – when they are implemented well.
Many feel like a text reinvention of a company’s telephone routing systems or The old Microsoft assistant, Clippy rather than using any form of artificial intelligence but that I suspect will change in 2018.
Chatbots that aim to solve specific tasks rather than trying to solve everything will succeed. This sets expectations up front and improves the overall experience.
One of my favourite chatbots is by Duolingo, which teaches you how to speak in different languages through a conversation.
When it comes to business to business marketing, chatbots can also level up the experience, providing the information that the specific individual requires rather than generic content written to appeal to everyone (and nobody).
This more natural interaction could also mean the death of the form – though we are still a long way away from that and results in building better relationships – making chatbots a natural fit for an account based marketing strategy as well.
2018 is well under way and this week I look back at the marketing technology trends I discussed last year and what should be interesting this year.
A useful quote I often have to mind when I do these sorts of things (and actually for annual planning generally) is something Bill Gates said in his book “The Road Ahead”.
“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”
What I found most interesting was that with the exception of change happening in advertising, the major trends I discussed in 2017 have not shifted significantly twelve months later.
There is still work to be done.
The amount of talk in 2017 on artificial intelligence means its hard to actually remember what it was like at the beginning of the year. I had to go back and look at my notes!
One thing was very clear, artificial intelligence continues to march on, progressively being used by more and more companies.
Similar to last year though, many companies added it as a badge without any depth and that continues today.
There were of course increasingly sophisticated use of artificial intelligence. Jetlore’s platform to automate personalisation of retailer websites springs to mind.
The largest announcements and the biggest opportunities in the future were announcements from the major martech companies announcing AI capabilities to their platforms and also development platforms for others to build on.
Chatbots, which are often lumped into artificial intelligence (wrongly at least today in my view), saw increasing awareness and adoption.
Facebook announced their messenger for business platform and Drift reinvented the business chat space by showing everyone that a new way of interacting with companies was needed. In their view the form is dead and replaced by a chat window. I believe their timing is impeccable and makes for a better user experience as people are used to messaging in a way that was not mainstream previously.
The biggest change in platforms using artificial intelligence in my eyes was the increasing demand for transparency. There was not much evidence of it in 2017 but I believe we will see more of it in 2018.
Black box marketing is not something that marketers want to bet their jobs on year after year.
One thing dominated B2B marketing in 2017.
Account Based Marketing (ABM).
Traditionally it has been a way to market to a single account and accelerate revenue from companies you want to work with.
There was increasing focus on a scalable approach that allows ABM techniques to be used by the majority rather than the few.
We saw increased acquisition activity and increasing adoption – especially among technology companies but also early adopters in other verticals.
We saw increasing use of B2B advertising to reach those accounts, decreasing wastage and improving awareness. I suspect 2018 will see significant growth in B2B advertising as a result.
We also saw many technology companies dive into ABM adding it as a badge to their existing products that barely delivers on ABM’s approach. Unsurprising given the increased attention the phrase was achieving.
ABM covers a huge swathe of B2B marketing and for the next few years at least, will see the need for marketers to adopt a suite of products rather than any single platform.
For the most part though, 2017 was a year of experimentation and whilst 2018 will see tried and tested ways of implementing scalable ABM, there is still a lot of new techniques to both build and test.
We spend our days (and nights!) thinking about this space as it is the core of what we do at Radiate B2B. I am talking on a webinar about how to add ABM to existing B2B marketing programmes next week. If you are interested then you can read more here.
In some ways the biggest marketing news of 2017 came from the advertising world.
First was on greater transparency. This is an increasing trend across marketing generally and one that is going to continue in 2018 with GDPR and ePrivacy (the new data and privacy regulations rolling out in May across the UK and Europe).
Forced in part early on in 2017 by Procter & Gamble’s slashing of its online advertising budgets due to fears of fraud and issues with the way advertising is bought, Facebook, Google and Twitter all agreed to data audits in a bid to show increasing transparency and accuracy.
Next was the rise of ad-blocking. With around 40% of page views blocked in the UK and almost a third in Europe, this became a major issue for publishers.
Rather unsurprisingly this has resulted in a war between the twowith publishers launching ways to bypass the blockers and blocking access to their websites.
Google launches its ad-blocker next month which will increase awareness of ad-blocking and change the game. Rather than block all ads, it will block poorly performing ads. This will likely slow adoption in the short term of full ad blocking but if launched badly, could result in increasing adoption in the medium term.
Google will obviously not want this to happen so I suspect the evolution of Google’s ad-blocking solution will include a micro-payment gateway which will provide Google (and publishers) with another revenue stream and allow people to choose between seeing ads and paying a small fee. A win-win for Google.
Finally, at the end of the year were murmurs of Amazon entering the advertising space. It has gained traction mostly because everyone it seems wants to have an alternative to the dominance of Facebook and Google.
I suspect we will hear and see more in 2018.
Goodbye predictive analytics
Predictive Analytics passes through another year without dominating but I think we gained clarity over its future in 2018.
We are starting to see the death of predictive analytics as a category in itself. It is now just analytics and is being built into a wider range of products – a result of the maturity of the market and increasingly accessible artificial intelligence capabilities.
One of the biggest time constraints today on marketers is around sourcing, manipulating and creating content. Disappointingly for me, content automation tools largely failed to breakthrough into the limelight last year.
In the short term I see this as being tools that support content creation rather than creating it. Maybe in 2018..
In 2017 though, we did see publishers increasingly use AI to write content.
2018 will (obviously?) not see the end of the journalist but certainly more publishers will experiment with it in specific niches. See more here on what is possible. This is not as new as it may sound though. The Associated Press have been doing this since 2015.
I’m a huge fan of virtual/augmented reality and think it will change society both positively and negatively in a significant way much the way mobile has done.
I suggested last year that 2018/19 was more realistically when we would see mainstream adoption and not 2017 and that still holds for me.
Apple largely failed to deliver on expectations in 2017 with AR/VR capabilities in its new iPhone and if anything I think we have pushed back any mainstream adoption till the end of 2018 at the earliest.
Similar to the launch of the PC though, we are seeing increasing usage in business and I suspect 2018 could be the year of mainstream business usage (in training and simulation) with consumer usage happening later in the year.
Assistants a la Alexa, Cortana etc.xd
Amazon ruled 2016 and continued to do so in 2017. We did see a large number of companies build Alexa into their products – ranging from baby monitors to cars to fridges. Google Home also saw increasing integrations and seems to be picking up steam.
Apple and Microsoft largely disappointed for me. Apple did not improve Siri at all really and Cortana lost momentum. It is a two horse race at this point with Alexa doing a Manchester City and running away with it right now.
Indeed, Christmas 2017 saw massive numbers of Amazon’s Alexa products sold with Google resorting to using a metaphor (a Google Home sold every second) to suggest it was as successful.
Amazon hasn’t released its exact figures but said tens of millions had been sold over the holiday season. Amazon had been outselling Google Home by circa 4x going into Q4. Time will tell if Google is closing the gap.
I still believe that if Google can integrate its Android ecosystem with Google Home more clearly, it will accelerate past Amazon. It struggles with not having a persona/brand in my view. Google Assistant is largely generic and the focus seems to be more on “Hey Google” or Google Home as a brand, which I just do not understand.
Marketing to Alexa’s userbase remained an area restricted by Amazon. This meant marketing’s usage in 2017 was largely restricted to tools that help marketers themselves rather than marketing to the Alexa userbase. Amazon announced an Alexa for Business programme to support this in 2017.
That restriction looks set to change in 2018 though, with suggestions that Amazon intends to take baby steps towards allowing advertising (likely sponsorship in my view).
Getting the balance right is going to be a challenge. Wired has an excellent article on how brands are looking to get involved. Read it here.