Modern Marketing

Could a robot ever replace you? Predictions from LinkedIn, Kemosabe, Quantcast, and more

By The Drum | Editorial

July 18, 2018 | 10 min read

Artificial intelligence and machine learning have the potential to radically improve productivity in our industry, or make the humans involved redundant. We asked a set of industry experts whether we should looking ahead to the robot renaissance, or looking over our shoulders.

Matt Barrie, chief executive officer, Freelancer.com

Whatever you do, AI and robots will eventually do it better. They’ve beaten the best human players at checkers, chess, Go and Jeopardy, while companies such as Boston Dynamics are rapidly improving robot sensing, locomotion and manipulation. Any job that can be described by an algorithm or relies on human physical labor will eventually go. But will AI be able to design logos, write copy or compose music? It already is, and it’s probably only a matter of time before AI does this better than a human can, especially because it can be trained in a supervised fashion with feedback from humans.

We’ve seen, over time, that when technological innovation takes jobs away it also creates opportunity. It’s often argued that more jobs are created than lost. So instead of having people go door-to-door selling ice, in the age of refrigerators we have higher-end jobs where engineers design the mechanics, electronics and software behind such appliances. And just think how many jobs the internet has created. Will this job destruction and creation continue? Most certainly. But whether the human race can continually adapt to higherend jobs, I don’t know. Globally, there is a critical shortage of sophisticated technical skills and I certainly see that continuing for a very long time. I just don’t know how much motivation the general population has to keep upskilling.

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Tom Pepper, UK director of marketing solutions at LinkedIn, says he's not threatened by robots.

Stuart Templeton, head of UK, Slack

I don’t believe in a future where technology takes over all jobs. Over time, with innovation, yes, some tasks may be replaced by technology, liberating us as a society to do things we were unable to do before. For now, though, to free us up to be more productive, companies should create an environment where collaboration between employees is as frictionless as possible, and embrace innovative technologies to support this.

Chris Patton, UK and Ireland head of marketing, Fujitsu

Instead of replacing humans, robots will co-exist with us. I envision a seamless interface with artificial intelligence-based technologies – let’s call it AI harmony – where, through technology, workers take increasingly creative roles because they have the chance to delegate repetitive and laborious tasks. We will also see an abundance of Alexa-type technologies in the workplace supporting people in their day-to-day work. In fact, a recent Fujitsu report showed that half of UK business leaders have already implemented AI, or plan to in the next 12 months. This is a testimony to the future of work and innovation – as more people are exposed to cutting-edge technology, be it at home or in the workplace, its added value will be better understood and accepted.

Ian Irving, co-founder and creative strategy director, Kemosabe

There is much puff around AI changing the workplace, but I see AI in business as being something that will enable, as opposed to revolutionize, the work environment. Humans will always control AI, and I can’t see it being the other way around.

Of course, we’ve seen human behaviors change due to social and digital platforms such as Facebook and Uber, but I can’t see AI changing human behavior at work. People are the problem, not AI. People hate changes to their working day, and, more often than not, hate changes in their working processes. Bolting on more tech is not always the answer. The human factor is intrinsic in business – how many times do you scream out loud when you simply want to “talk to a human” on the phone to sort out a bill or new insurance? Robots will have their place, but it will always be humans who put them there.

Amelia Kallman, futurist, consultant, speaker and award-winning author

I’m not worried about a robot replacing me, but I do believe artificial intelligence could replace all of us, if we let it. We are at a vital juncture in our evolution, as we enable machines to learn, communicate and make decisions without fully understanding what they are doing. This puts humans at a disadvantage, because machines are finding that they can operate faster and work more efficiently without us.

A lot of experimentation in this area seems to be asking “Is it possible?”, rather than whether it is necessary and actually contributes to a healthier, sustainable future for the human race. Innovation is always key, but we must have clear intentions about which roles we want machines to play, as well as education and discussion around the possible side effects we face. We’re already past the point of no return, but we still have time to exert some control over how the integration of AI and robots into our societies plays out. And these decisions can’t just be left up to tech companies and governments who stand to profit.

Peter Day, chief technology officer, Quantcast

We get a lot of questions from our media agency partners and brand marketers concerned about whether AI will steal their jobs. AI won’t ever replace humans entirely, but what we need to be discussing now is how this technology can be used to complement human skills in creative roles for the long term. When AI is used in the right way, agency teams will find themselves freed up from the small, repetitive tasks like adjusting campaign targeting and able to invest more time in driving creativity and innovation for clients.

Sera Miller, co-founder, The Fawnbrake Collective

Any role that centers around empathy, negotiation, creativity and problem solving will naturally be less susceptible to automation than others. So no, I don’t think I’m likely to be replaced by a robot any time soon. In fact, the more we focus on our creative skills, the more ‘human’ we are, and the more resilient we will be.

However, perhaps resilience is the wrong mindset here; in this industry, do we really need another binary choice? Another ‘data v creativity’ pseudo-battle that will achieve nothing in terms of vital change, the equivalent of arguing about which deckchairs on the Titanic are the most important or where they should be placed?

I for one would be happy to have large chunks of my current job replaced by a robot. To be able to ask my ‘assisted intelligence’ working partner to collate information at scale, crunch swathes of data for me to review, or simply help me navigate multiple pathways of initial exploratory thinking in minutes would be highly useful. To be able to unlock commercial collaboration at scale through blockchain would enable me to connect with so many more likeminded individuals than I ever could manually. It would allow me to focus time and energy on my human skills – translating, understanding, empathizing, creating. It strikes me that those most afraid of ‘robots coming to replace them’ are those who perhaps already lack this knowledge and skill-base themselves.

Tom Pepper, UK director of marketing solutions, LinkedIn

I don’t think my job will be taken over by robots, but that doesn’t mean my role won’t change significantly as a result of AI. Although AI ‘stealing’ jobs is a hot topic, we need to look at the array of benefits tech has had on our working lives, and the solutions AI can offer, helping to remove some of the repetitive elements of work and freeing up our time. Looking at the marketing and advertising industry, AI is perfect for picking up some of those admin and data analysis tasks, but technology will never replace humans. With more time available, people can put a greater focus on developing relationships and being more creative with our campaigns, providing the emotional engagement a robot will never be capable of.

James Keating, EMEA head of marketing, Dropbox

The short answer is ‘no’. The future of work will see more organizations adopt emerging technologies such as AI, but their fundamental role will be to remove repetitive and admin tasks, making way for employees to focus on meaningful and creative work. The end result will give employees more time to do what makes them uniquely human – complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity. By taking a holistic approach to the future of work, a human-machine partnership will open up a new realm of possibilities for organizations. Considering the rise of multi-faceted jobs, many of which require a balance between human interaction and technology, it’s easier to see how AI is less likely to replace us and more likely to enhance the way we work.

To gain more insights into the working world of tomorrow, grab a copy of The Drum’s August issue, where we hear from WPP chief transformation officer Lindsay Pattison; find out how workspaces, advertisers and agency models are changing with the times; and question whether machines could ever replace marketers.

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