The Marketing Singularity

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This Blog post is going to get a little geeky, techie and weird… you have been warned.

On July 25th, 2009 The New York Times ran an article titled, Scientists Worry Machines May Outsmart Man. It tells the story of leading computer scientists, artificial intelligence researchers and roboticists who met earlier in the year at a conference organized by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence. The meeting was created to discuss and debate how much research and technology should be done if it leads to a moment in time where humans loose control over the computer-based systems that they created. We’re not talking about the Matrix or 2001: A Space Odyssey here, but advancements are happening quicker than we all might realize.

"The idea of an ‘intelligence explosion’ in which smart machines would design even more intelligent machines was proposed by the mathematician I. J. Good in 1965. Later, in lectures and science fiction novels, the computer scientist Vernor Vinge popularized the notion of a moment when humans will create smarter-than-human machines, causing such rapid change that the ‘human era will be ended.’ He called this shift the Singularity."

Is it possible that we will see a Marketing Singularity?

Can computers get smarter than human beings when it comes to Marketing? Granted, the one area that may be difficult for a computer to master might be creativity and understanding the human condition, but what if they could tell us the likelihood of which ideas will spread (and which ones will die)? What if they could tell us before we delve into the creative aspects where we should be looking for optimal inspiration?

OK, this does sound a little too much like Science Fiction.

But, then again, so did Star Trek when it first came out, and suddenly we’ve got communicators (cell phones), stun guns and scanners. In fact, as advanced as Web Analytics is, it could well be the first nod towards how sophisticated and predictive Marketing tools can become. The question (and it’s well-worth thinking about) is: could we develop such smart analytics platforms that they design even more intelligent machines that can understand what messages will work on human beings better than human beings can?

Last thought from the article that spawned all this wacky thought:

"While the computer scientists agreed that we are a long way from Hal, the computer that took over the spaceship in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’ they said there was legitimate concern that technological progress would transform the work force by destroying a widening range of jobs, as well as force humans to learn to live with machines that increasingly copy human behaviors… The researchers… generally discounted the possibility of highly centralized superintelligences and the idea that intelligence might spring spontaneously from the Internet. But they agreed that robots that can kill autonomously are either already here or will be soon."

If they can kill, odds are they can market too.


  1. I imagine it’s possible that eventually AI can do it all.. but I feel like that’s probably a long ways off.. closer, it seems to me, is a question of what’s the difference between what computers are good at versus humans.. I think to some extent we are already saying “well google might lesson the importance of memorizing stuff.”
    It certainly seems to me an AI could do analytics better then a human.. but I still think there’s a lot of questions you want the human involved in.. in what and how you are measuring. I wouldn’t want the computer to take over the process for me, but if it can cause me to see things i might not other wise see, or think about things I might not otherwise think about it, or in ways I might not other wise think, I’m all for it.
    Oddly enough.. I’m an artist.. and taking a grad class in a program not to dissimilar from the MIT media lab where I’m just starting to look at how I can model out what I do.. in such a way so as to write a computer program that can do it automatically… If I’m thinking visually.. well, how do I think about color? If I’m thinking sonically.. how do I think about the mix engineer’s tasks or certain elements of music composition..
    What I imagine might be tricky here is.. well its like John Coltrane: It’s not just what notes you play, but how you play them: You put a little spin on the ball over here.. and maybe this other spin in this totally unrelated area.. and somehow all the pieces make more then the sum of the parts when put together.
    So in business.. it’s like the relationship between analytics and metrics to.. lets call it situational awareness.. and like.. the roll this plays in decision making. The thing I worry about is how we compartmentalize stuff.. and how the compartment you live in effects how you value stuff.. and how organizational tensions might be important.. and what happens to the process if software disembodies all this.
    I suppose what I’m trying to say is that there’s a lot of strange things that go on that are not necessarily on a rational level, and yet are important.. things that we do not even appreciate.. virtues to our humanness.. etc.. and I think its very hard to design systems that take all this into account.. or one way or another work with this.
    I think, before we worry about computers taking over, I think we need to think more cybernetic-ally.. about where the strengths of computers and AI lye, and where the strength of humans lye.. and sorta come at it that way. On this trajectory I think… we are still babes in the wilderness.
    And so.. if we talk about computers designing computers better then humans.. I think they can really only design certain parts of the computer better then humans.
    One last thing.. I’ve studied a lot psychology.. read the collected works of Freud and Jung.. everything they ever wrote.. and while reading that stuff I thought “could you model this stuff in software” and.. the answer I came to was yes. So I believe all the unconscious mysterious stuff in us can be modeled.
    Wouldn’t it be interesting if SPAM developers.. instead of taking over your computer to spam folks, used all the infested computers for some crazy AI? What kinda computational power might that provide? LOL, Perhaps this is the true future of the cloud?

  2. We do see a lot of trends related to this in web analytics. As data becomes more and more complex through mixing it with other data sources and the tools increases in power to make this information operational the answer will be increased analytics skills in the tools – and analytics skill requires intelligence.

  3. The question is less “Can they” or “Will they be able to” than it is “Do We Want Them To?”
    In optimistic fiction, intelligent computers make life better. We give them permission to do this through sets of rules like Aasimov’s laws. But do we want them predicting fashion trends? The tools are there, and AI will certainly advance to the point where this is possible.
    So, if this is possible, do we want it? And if it’s happening, do we really want to be told?
    I imagine that rather than killing everyone, smartbots will just have an intredible PR department and excellent HR capabilities.

  4. I’m not closing my doors for these fictions to happen, yet, I’m still doubtful that robots would have the capability to feel what a human will suppose to feel. Feelings and emotions are basically the ones that separate us from these machines. However, as humans struggle to achieve greater heights and technological advancements, by the time human-like robots are invented, don’t you think human have also achieved a greater intelligence that would make us still superior than robots? I guess humans will not allow defeat among their creations. Sounds like I said some fictions too.

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