With artificial intelligence increasingly having an impact on how we interact with the world–from ordering pizza through bots to relying on blind-spot monitoring in your car to avoid crashes on the highway–it’s more important than ever for technologists and marketers to make sure that human needs come first. That was the message delivered by Deutsch’s Rachel Mercer (head of digital strategy and invention) and Daniel Murphy (director of digital operations and production) at a Fast Company Innovation Festival session on Tuesday afternoon.
Amid all the technological advances that have disrupted the world of marketing, from voice assistants and chatbots to automated content creation and programmatic media buying, Mercer says that she makes sure to focus on what really matters: “How does the average person feel about all of this?” The answer: It’s complicated.
Though 79% of U.S. adults recently surveyed said they’ve used some form of AI, they still show a strong preference for a human touch. When it comes to a medical diagnosis, 86% of people prefer humans to make that complicated series of decisions. As we see brands enter more intimate spaces of our lives and gather more intimate data, “the importance of humanity” is paramount behind companies who seek to market their products.
Joined by Oliver Christie, an AI consultant with boutique agency Foxy Machine, and Sara M. Watson, a technology critic and fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, Mercer and Murphy discussed the ethical and existential questions surrounding the role of AI in society. Those could be challenges of branding in the new era, with companies like Dominos creating too many “micro-interactions” (chatbot, messenger, email) to order pizza that end up overwhelming or offending their customers. Other unintended consequences include things like Alexa replying to your child’s requests with porn.
The ethical dilemmas of the AI era also encompass more serious questions, like how to prevent car companies from setting up features that protect the driver over pedestrians, and whether it’s unethical for your voice assistant to alert the authorities if it believed you were responsible for a serious crime. About 38% of audience members at the event who voted online via an app felt that the latter scenario was unethical and twice as many felt it was unethical for your Alexa or Google Home to keep a record of your conversations in the cloud.
The audience definitely shared Mercer’s concern for putting humanity front and center. One of the more popular questions that came up during the event was: In a world of ubiquitous AI, what will human-to-human relationships be like? Murphy was concerned about this future society, noting that kids raised in the iPhone era were already more depressed and more risk-averse than previous generations and that such social problems promised to get even worse in the coming AI era. Christie was more optimistic, believing that AI could help reduce social isolation and enhance human connection and individuality.
“AI is just a reflection of society. It’s a mirror on who we are,” he concluded. “We’ll get the type of AI we deserve.”