Marketing technology won’t steal your job (as long as you’re human)

Rick Mulia outlines examples from the past where technology has enhanced the jobs of humans, not replaced them, and thinks the same will occur with marketing automation.

Rick Mulia 180Machines are taking over the place. You might have heard recently about how Moley Technologies plans to launch the world’s first fully automated chef – faster, cheaper and better looking than Gordon Ramsey, minus the expletives.

There’s also the news that IBM’s Watson cognitive computing system has released a cookbook, with ingredients selected by a computer that used Artificial Intelligence. I can believe it. A human would never have come up with creole shrimp-lamb dumplings, or plum cider with bacon! Whatever the message from IBM, such machines operate alongside humans, not in lieu of them. Watson is like a robotic colleague, enabling job transformation, not job replacement.

Malcolm Turnbull’s $1.1 billion four year investment in innovation is needed to transform our economy from one that relies on mining and manufacturing to one that is centred on innovation. For Australia to remain competitive we must be at the forefront of automation and embrace it rather than rejecting it.

Crikey. So when we hear that automation is also making big strides into the world of advertising you have to wonder, will my job be next?

Those new transformed jobs will emerge. It’s a fundamental of conventional economics that, when you lose a job, you are freed up to do something else. Take the onset of the industrial revolution in northern England as an example. The Luddites feared when machines replaced their hand looms they’d all be out of work.

Yet the new factories created enormous job opportunities and rising wealth. A more recent example can be found in the banking sector. In a recent paper in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, ‘Why Are There Still So Many Jobs’, David H Autor points out how ATMs were introduced in the US in the 1970s, yet the number of bank tellers subsequently increased. Free from dishing out banknotes, the staff became involved in selling a more diverse range of products, like loans and investments, that made more money for their employers.

It will be the same in advertising. Automation, through programmatic trading platforms, is removing some of the more routine aspects of sales, planning and placement. But there’s so much more to do, developing more targeted campaigns.

The role of the creative will mushroom, for example, as more content is required to reach tightly defined audience segments.

The second machine age

You can take heart that machines rarely act alone. They can enhance our productivity, but they tend to rely on human input. Take the machine-generated cookbook. It came up with the ingredients, but it took living breathing chefs to determine the quantities and how to cook it.

Related: Automation, streamlined delivery, VR and 5G – get ready for the future of retail »

Here’s another example. Russian chess master Garry Kasparov pioneered a game called ‘Advanced Chess’, which blended human skill with computer assistance. In the book The Second Machine Age authors Brynnjolsson and McAffe talk about a particular match between Kasparov and the Bulgarian master Topalov. Kasparov is quoted as saying, “Since we both had equal access to the same database, the advantage came down to creating a new idea.”

Humans made the difference. Machines can help with routine tasks and, increasingly, massive number crunching exercises, but they’re sadly lacking when it comes to creativity.

As Brynnjolsson and McAffe suggest, “We’ve never seen a truly creative machine, or an entrepreneurial one or an innovative one.” Thank goodness advertising is an industry that relies on all those ingredients. And automation will give us the time to regain focus on each of them. In other words, freeing us to consider what made media and advertising great in the first place.

So, in answer to the question, ‘Will computers take my job?’ The answer is no. You just have to focus on being human.


Rick Mulia is managing director, Rubicon Project JAPAC


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