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CES 2016: Marketers urged to take artificial intelligence seriously if they’re to become customer-obsessed

CES 2016 starts today (6 January) but that hasn’t stopped Toyota, Microsoft, IBM and more already going public with their big tech gambits for the year, with many of those focused on how to harness artificial intelligence (AI) in order to convince people to share their data amid the very public issue of privacy ethics.  

The Future of AI session brought into sharp focus a key theme of the show, and explored its role in driving customer value and top-line revenue growth. Leading experts from IMB’s Watson team, Microsoft, and Sentient Technologies discussed how AI, once viewed as a gimmick in the corporate world, is becoming essential to future strategies.

Indeed, the healthcare industry has been the quickest to invest in AI followed (somewhat surprisingly) by the retail sector, agreed the panel, which then predicted more over the next three-to-five years as manufacturers, financial services and governments circle the technology.

“Automation is the next big thing, because it will harness the power of all the other things, making cars that drive safer, medical diagnostics that anticipate health needs, and robots that not only respond to our commands but anticipate them," said Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey. "It will be harder to see the power of these life-changing solutions, but their long-term effect will be bigger than any single device or innovation.”

However, security concerns threaten to slow this market’s growth. Accenture claims that demand for connected devices is about to dip in 2016,  as people look for assurances that their personal information is protected and that they are in control.

It’s why Google is powering the digital home, IBM is selling Watson as a suite of tools to solve real businesses challenges and perhaps most prominently the advent of the connected car.

Toyota has hired a team of experts to man its AI lab, running nearly 30 projects that will power the “car that cannot be responsible for a collision” as well as robots for the home. The Japanese business pledged in November to pump $1bn over the next five years into the initiative in a bid to open up new revenue streams.

"The scale of Toyota's commitment reflects our belief in the importance of developing safe and reliable automated mobility systems,” said Gill Pratt, Toyota’s executive technical advisor and chief executive of the AI lab. “Simply put, we believe we can significantly improve the quality of life for all people, regardless of age, with mobility products in all aspects of life.”

Tech giant Nvidia is also getting in on the act, producing an in-car super-computer called Drive PX 2 that helps car marques make self-driving vehicles a reality. Around the size of a lunchbox, the tech has the processing power of “100 MacBook Pros” boasted Nvidia chief executive Jen-Hsun. He additionally claimed that it possessed software that is capable of processing 12 video camera feeds as well as radar and ultrasonic sensors.

Elsewhere, Ford announced a partnership with Amazon (not Google as had been rumoured) to connect drivers to their smart homes via the online giant’s Echo voice recognition system. What this means is a homeowner could also ask the tool to do things like start their car or open their garage door if they’re driving. It also revealed plans to triple its fleet of autonomous Fusion hybrids by the end of the year and test them in California, Arizona and Michigan.

The proliferation of automated services, AI and robotics has heightened the need for marketers to work closer with developers and coders. Already attendees at this year’s CES, as well as chief executive and founder of agency Potato Jason Cartwright are predicting the rise of the marketing engineer. In other words, marketers who understand that coding is becoming just as important to their goals as a media strategy or piece of creative. 

The flurry of early announcements has only stoked people's excitement for the actual show. Before the doors even open, there have been 455,000 mentions of CES in the last seven days on social media, according to Brandwatch. #CES2016 is the most used hashtag with 193,958 tweets (including RTs) and totalling 4680,202417 impressions so far.

LG is the most mentioned brand ahead of the show with 30,461 mentions, ahead of Samsung’s 25,131 mentions. Ford tops the car brands with 7,600 mentions in association with CES. As Fitbit share price dropped after their CES colour reveal, their number of mentions in relation to CES is 7,100.

Featured by The Drum