Vox Pop: Will a robot take my job?

The BBC recently reported that 35% of us are at risk of losing our jobs to machines in the next 20 years. Maybe not a surprise for society as a whole, however the most shocking finding was that junior marketers are 33% likely to lose out to machines, robots taking over the day to day roles. The study was based on research carried out by students at Oxford University and research conducted by Deloitte and the Office of National Statistics. The Drum Network asks its members what they think about the future security of marketing roles...

David Skerrett, managing director, Nimbletank

As a next generation agency we love inventing the future for our clients. I’ve been talking to clients about robots, and automation for a while now. This year it’s not just Sci-Fi, but robots have entered the mainstream with some proclaiming 2015 “the year of the robot”. We’ve also had the excellent Humans TV series airing on Channel 4, and the slightly less excellent new Terminator film hitting cinemas. Which means in the last year we’ve had Sarah Connor, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking all agreeing that AI is the biggest threat to the human race.

Mobile in particular has seen new AI-driven contextual experiences arising this year. So Apple now can pretty accurately guess what App you want to open based on the time of day, where you are and whether your headphones are plugged in. AI and automation through voice with the likes of Siri and Google Now is making our lives easier like never before. And you have Apps like Uber saving us time. Amazon are pushing the limits of automation and human-machine collaboration with 15,000 Kiva robots in warehouses around the world quickly delivering our stuff. In South Korea they even have robots working in retail.

With driverless cars, and software that writes content on the way, automation is sure to impact the way the agencies of the future operate and are staffed. The past tells us as much. Between 2001 and 2012, 47% of UK secretarial roles disappeared due to automation. However what has happened is that people still in these roles are more empowered than ever before thanks to technology, enabling them to do more with their time, and also retrain into other roles or industries. So it’s not all doom and gloom.

I fully agree with Dave Morin, the founder of Path, when he states "AI is the new UI". The future is more contextually-aware smarter experiences. However agency life is still very much a people business. You want to do business with nice easy-to-work-with people who are smart and creative. Not robots.

The increase in automation is sure to impact less creative and more junior roles and is already redefining media buying – less media plans, more media systems and software.From timesheet software to apps that make doing your expenses a bit quicker, we can support doing more with less time. Which can mean less people. To follow are some example of hardware and software that could already impact the following roles:

Copy-writers. Narrative Science, based in the US, has developed a system that transforms data into natural-language prose – their sport and finance articles are pretty much indistinguishable from human-written content.

Finance. Receipt Bank has created software to automatically upload receipts and expense reports data into accounting software platforms, replacing entry-level accountants.

SEO-experts. The bots that crawl the Internet might rebel on their human overlords. Just joking!

Thankfully creatively driven collaborative teams are unlikely to be made obsolete by robots in the next few decades and the appetite for truly original ideas and considered execution will hopefully not be impacted. Robots therefore won’t be entirely replacing us for a while, but we are now approaching an interesting and perhaps a little scary change in the dynamics of the work force. It could even be the biggest change in the workplace since the Industrial Revolution. And if nothing else we will soon be getting a second series of Humans.

Villy Devlioti, insights & innovation manager, Cult LDN

So it appears that junior marketers have a 33% chance of losing their jobs to robots. Not too shabby. The truth is that robots have been around for a while. From automated reports to notifications to Fitbit trackers, we have all been acquainted with technology and have embraced the perks of Artificial Intelligence - even if it is in a very basic form we’re talking about.

Should we feel threatened? It really depends on one’s point of view. Some may argue that Artificial Intelligence strips marketing from its long-known professional traits. I stand with the opinion that dictates that, as with everything, professions evolve as well. From the suited-up marketers and advertisers of the ‘60s, we have now landed in the era of smart-dressed, social media aficionados, google-glass-wearing marketers.

So, if the robots are willing to take up the tasks of accumulating, interpreting data and helping their human pets understand mass matrices of numbers and stats, so be it. If that means that marketers will get to study, understand the human emotions spectrum, helping the transition from broadcasting to micro-casting and crafting experiential, socially connected campaigns, I’m all for it.

One thing is for sure; Artificial Intelligence will not replace social intelligence.

Jason Baker, strategic director, Hunterlodge Advertising

This is the resurgence of the eminent war of ‘Robots vs. Humans’. Within marketing, it usually manifests itself around the issue of how we use data to drive success and improve our marketing and advertising initiatives. We have access to heaps of information – business and behavioural data, even in its dirtiest form, can help us understand human behaviour and their purchase influencers. This comes with the price of an onslaught of ‘easy fixes’ like programmatic, automation, robots, and so on to help us to be able to utilise and understand the data.

However, striking the right balance in the battle of Robots vs. Humans is the secret to success. On one side, data fuels the robots and they, in turn, emit ‘recyclable exhaust’ in the form of more useful data. As such, robots alone can only drive efficiency and processes. Humans, though, drive effectiveness. Humans can turn data into information, and information into insight that helps us understand why our customers are behaving the way they are. To do that you need more than intelligence, you need large doses of unquenchable curiosity and a dash of empathy. When the robots taking our jobs develop artificial versions of these intrinsically human characteristics is when I’ll start to squirm.

Sarah Howard, head of content, Vertical Leap

Robots have the potential to complete many jobs if humans decide to develop them in that way. Creative roles like content strategists are less likely to be taken over by AI, as they require constant ideas and fresh thinking. Each client is different, so there wouldn't be one set of parameters to determine what would make a good content strategy.

Writing roles are more likely to adapt, with tech like Quill's writing system already capable of writing news articles and company reports. Journalists will then be free from the more dull facts and figures reporting, and able to focus on the more people-centric opinion pieces. However, in the long-term this could mean fewer journalists, which is a shame in an industry where numbers have already dwindled. If robots replace journalists, we could be left open to even more PR-led news and less on-the-ground reporting

Jonathan Seal, head of strategy, Mando Group

Saying robots take away jobs is an easy truism that hides a much more challenging reality. After all, 140 years of census data have demonstrated that machines create far more jobs than they have ever eradicated, and just in our own sector we see this routinely as new roles emerge to exploit and build upon the opportunities that machines provide.

Will the rise of machines and artificial intelligence radically reshape what jobs we will have in the future? Absolutely. However, we do have a myopic tendency to focus only on the loss or automation of a role and not the new market or opportunity this creates for people to add value in other rewarding ways we can’t yet see. Do we miss the days when most of us worked as Victorian factory-workers or Georgian farm-labourers? No. Rather than cling to a doomed pattern of employment we instead value the fact that now more people than ever work in sectors like healthcare, leisure and service industries that would not be possible without the automation that freed up this potential workforce.

Marketing is a great current example. We’ve already seen the death of the ‘old school’ marketer as data and analytics-driven approaches pushed them out of existence. But as further automation, predictive analytics and machine learning expand their reach, they simply break up new fertile ground for us to add value in ways that machines currently can’t. That will inevitably require new skills and approaches, but being adaptable is the ticket price we pay for employment in this age. The tasks we’re losing are those that would require us to act like a machine, and in many cases (certainly true within marketing) the outcome is that we are being given the opportunity to invest more attention in areas where machines are still relatively useless… knowing what questions to ask, expressing creativity and empathy, breaking rules.

The wider question is… as intelligent machines evolve and take on more and more of the activities we’ve historically thought of as belonging in our domain, are we really diminished or are we elevated to become more and more human as a result?

Debbie Harvey, strategic marketing director, Kolab

With the rise and adoption of programmatic by brands on the increase, this doesn't surprise me. In our sector we often hear about disruptive tech and have to look into our crystal balls to determine trend or fad.

My advice to all junior marketers out there is... you have 20 years to climb the ladder, because it’s looking good for sales and marketing directors with the risk coming down to just 1%! Although the tactical skills may not be required to do the tasks in twenty years times, I predict that there will still be a need for strategists and planners and that people will generally be less defined by job titles. This is a good thing as I feel that job titles often shave the best bits off, and that we should be defined more by our core skills. Who will the managers be negotiating with though… man or machine?!

Frank Whiffen, head of business development, Ferrier Pearce Creative Group

The sentient, creative and ever changing algorithm that runs through our DNA is like a finger print to us as human beings. Our experiences and ranges of emotions is what sets us apart from technology. This makes me feel secure that marketeers at all levels are safe, albeit the industry is changing.

Whilst technology will no doubt integrate with elements of our work-life even more in the future, this should only make us work smarter. Will we as human beings ever be able to develop creative and individualistic technology capable of replicating the marketeers minds? I’m not sure we will ever be able to develop technology that thinks independently like marketeers due to marketing being so emotive.

Technology will enable a greater level of accuracy and efficiency so junior marketing roles might reduce, leaving us ‘beings' to be greater still and focus on the ‘doing'.

I feel that in the next 20 years there will be more jobs for marketeers, many of which we would not be able to image today as a result of the diversification in this ever changing sector working for customers that require communication through a range of different channels.

Jeremy Kramer, junior marketer, ClearPeople

So far my role as a marketer is safe. It is actually so safe that it has brought me around the world (quite literally) to Australia, Los Angeles and now London. Currently we’re at the forefront of the digital age and my only hands-on experience with AI thus far has been with Siri. I take comfort in knowing that so far AI systems are not creative and cannot detect an interesting opportunity. Sure, robots can help me with big data, update the CRM and help generate analytical insights - I actually welcome it - but when it comes to company foresight computers cannot detect and interpret structural or cultural change to ensure the survival and success of a company. In marketing, AI systems are linear: they collect an abundance of data but insights increase only linearly. Human marketers are then responsible for the perception and manipulation of such insights; limitations of AI systems.

We’re programmed to think that we’re always in jeopardy of something. But if we’re looking at trends in technology and AI, Siri has extremely limited functionalities, Sci-Fi movies are blown out of proportion and the cost of such devices outweigh decisions of implementation, at least for now. For marketing, extra help in interpreting the amount of data we accumulate would save me from squinting at the computer screen for longer than I already do. AI may provide me detailed analytics but it is my responsibility to perceive and manipulate that information. More importantly, creative and social intelligence are at the core of marketing and are the bottleneck of AI. In the end, if I somehow lose my job to an AI robot, I’m gonna neck the bottle.

Tim Hutchinson, director of mobile & web, RE:Systems

With talented, skilled designers and developers in great demand, costs are increasing and putting a strain on profit margins. We employ the best methods to streamline and optimise processes – things that can all too often get in the way of creativity! Intelligent project management and financial software is helping us to manage time, costs and people - to become more ‘effective’ and 'efficient', but the human factor still introduces margins of error. Robots will help reduce this and streamline all our processes, until we are in danger of becoming robots ourselves!

In real life, the use of robots is being taken to a whole new level where Artificial Intelligence (AI) is actually adopting emotion. Big data is helping us understand what people really think and feel. The constant sharing of feelings and social interaction through web-based networks means that this data is now being fully utilised by organisations in certain scenarios. We’ve worked on various tools that understand and decipher users’ sentiments in a specific situation, based on social conversation. Through collective input, based on the types of phrases and language used, it’s possible to define overall sentiment to an event at a set point in time.

The question is – will human emotion be our saviour from being replaced by robots completely, as depicted in a number of science fiction films? Will algorithms really be so good and data so big that a piece of software will design the perfect advert, write the catchiest tune, or deliver the most immersive experience? Yet, on the flip side how often have you looked at a piece of work and thought that it just doesn't feel right?

Will a robot ever be able do this as well as us? Probably. But as long as there's always an OFF switch, I'll sleep easy at night!

Liam Potter, lead product designer, Studio Mashbo

Automation is inevitable. Humans have always strived to get the most work done with the least amount of energy. It is this desire which is at the heart of our technological advancement. The industrial revolution is a prime example of this – machines doing and producing more than any human could, bringing about the modern world.

In the 1970s people thought, with the increase in computational power, we would work much shorter hours. But instead we are cramming more into our time. Technology, while displacing some jobs, has always created new jobs. We now have access to immense amounts of computational power, so much that we are now approaching a point where we are able to imagine a world without the need for human labour, and not think of it as science fiction!

We can write algorithms that summarise news reports, or build systems that power our public transport. Data analysis is already being automated. Associated Press, for example, have built a system to generate business reports from pure data. Any repetitive task humans are currently responsible for can be automated with the right hardware and software. But all of this comes at a price, as our current economic structure is unable to cope with the majority of the population unemployed. This is going to present enormous challenges for our society. It will necessitate dramatic shifts in how our economies work but, more importantly, it will change our social make up, how we relate to one another and what we value.

This is a world where being unemployed would not only be common, it would actually be the norm – not looked at as a bad thing. How we move into this world is anyone's guess, but it will not be painless or without sacrifice, and may very well be intentionally slowed down by world governments to give us time to transition.

Gareth Moss, managing partner & founder, The Blueprint

We have seen how technology has sat positively at the centre of the way business, the economy and indeed agencies have modernised in the past decade. Our proposition is built around the need for agencies to better adopt and use technology and technical expertise to create advantage allowing the agency to grow. We are naturally positive advocates for the role of technology in the workplace.

The next generation, the much hyped ‘millennials’, are digital natives and veracious users of technology. They are comfortable managing and controlling the role it plays in their lives and at work. The impact in the marketing and agency landscape in the next 10 years will be massive: from programmatic advertising, machine learning, the rise of virtual and augmented realities, to the impact of data from connected products will mean marketing, advertising and communications are, have and will change.

The question for agencies is how fast are they able to respond and react to the change and to remain relevant. And as employees, rather than sitting passively to see if your job will be replaced by a robot we are seeing a next generation working out how they can make the robots work better for them. Maybe even more…if we buy into the picture painted by Channel 4’s recent ‘Humans’ series.

Andrew Roberts, managing partner, Gravity Thinking

I have an irrational fear of machines. Even though I spend every day constantly hooked up to them. I think it stems from being given the I,Robot stories by Issac Asimov when I was 10. I was hooked. I loved it. The sci-fi fascination continued through my childhood with Star Trek, Blake’s Seven, Doctor Who, Quantum Leap (remember that?) and even Buck Rogers. My youth saw the golden age of sci-fi movies - 2001 Space Odyssey, The Matrix, Terminator, Star Wars and Alien – they were more than films they were clearly defined moments of my life.

And this is where my problem lies, a large number of the themes of these movies display a dystopian future that often includes some sort of ‘rise of the machine’ and therein lies my fear for a future where machines take over. When even Tony Stark himself (aka Elon Musk) describes artificial intelligence (AI) as “summoning the demon” and that these “existential risks’ are the biggest threat facing the world I think the World should sit up and listen.

Clearly it is good to see that the more creative and empathetic careers are not under threat but surely it is only a matter of time. After all as Will Smith asks Sonny in the brilliant I Robot “Can a robot write a symphony? Can a robot turn a... canvas into a beautiful masterpiece?” Sonny’s reply “can you?” says it all.

Be afraid, be very afraid………

Andy Hunt, software engineer, Strawberry

Automation (and machine learning, one of the driving forces behind artificial intelligence) won't replace us, but it will change the way we work and live.

Self-driving cars have been in the news more and more in recent years, and are probably the most obvious case in which humans are likely to lose jobs. Perhaps my view is controversial, but here goes: I think that's a good thing. When it comes down to it, humans are lazy, inattentive and slow to react. Those are 3 properties that frequently lead to fatalities when you put that human in a 1-tonne metal box going 40mph. Anything we can do to reduce the fatalities is a good thing.

The numbers reinforce that idea. In the summer of 2015, Google announced that their 23 driverless cars had driven themselves over 1,000,000 miles, encountered 180,000,000 other vehicles and, as of July 2015, been involved in just 14 incidents. Yet more impressive is that, Google maintain, in not one of those incidents was the self-driving car at fault. In fact, the very first incident of a human being harmed in an automated vehicle came in July 2015, when three Google employees were in a car which was rear-ended by a human driver who failed to brake.

Whilst the loss of jobs by professional drivers is unfortunate for the humans involved, I don't think it's the end of the story. Instead, new opportunities will arise. One potential benefit of a decline in humans driving is a resurgence in city nightlife and cultural events. In a world of self-driving cars, getting to and from events (in whatever state you're in) becomes as trivial as summoning your car to take you home – or even a self-driving taxi. Without the need to find human drivers, taxi firms are limited only by the number of cars they can afford to purchase and run, which in turn reduces the cost and wait times involved for customers.

As transit becomes cheaper and easier, I think we'll see more people venture out. Thus the cultural life of a city will get a much needed boost, creating new jobs and new opportunities.

Am I scared that I might be replaced by an automaton? As a software engineer, no not really; but if I am, I hope I get to be involved in replacing me. This is an exciting time and we've just scratched the surface.

Much like the advent of the automatic production line during the industrial revolution, automation might take your job, but it won't leave you without one. People will adapt and gain new skills as new opportunities arise – opportunities that didn't exist before.

Rebekah MacKay Miller, managing director, TRND

Sure, robots can tackle many tasks a lot more efficiently than us mere mortals. They can filter and analyse vast amounts of consumer data in seconds, identify underlying patterns and trends quicker than any human brain and, as if that wasn’t enough, they can do all this without a single coffee break. But technology can only take you so far. Successful brands know that marketing is all about building lasting relationships with your customers and that you need a human touch to develop a truly meaningful relationship with your consumer base. Only real people can listen to other people on a personal level and make genuine connections with them.

Real insights about your brand and products will not spring out of labs or from machines – because however intelligent they are, they’re not the ones buying and using your products. The truly invaluable marketing insights come straight out of your consumers’ homes and experiences. Your most loyal customers are your biggest fans and they are willing to go all out for their favourite brand, so rather than bringing robots into your marketing team you should be looking to invite your consumers in! Let them, and they will rave about your brand via word of mouth, generate online reviews for your spanking new product, or provide carefully thought out and honest feedback.

The next marketing force to unleash is not a technological one to look out for in twenty years, but already exists and is just waiting to be activated – your consumers.

Tamara Gillan, CEO, Cherry London

I prefer to view technology as an enabler rather than a threat. Apple’s powerful Siri system which now offers virtual personal assistants, delivers news and sports results and can control your home environment remotely. CleanSpace TM, combines the power of tech, crowdsourced data and brand partnerships to contribute to solving the issues arising from environmental pollution and waste. A brilliant use of tech in today's modern world.

I also believe that as society’s problems are man-made, so too must the solutions come from our progress and developments, prefer to consider what machines can add to the human experience, rather than to focus on what they can take away.

We believe bigger things happen when businesses, brands, people and technology work together. The greatest progress always starts with chemistry, inspiration and alchemy first and foremost, with the tech aspect always the means to an end, not the end itself.

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