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Will robots really replace us?

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The burning question at Social Media Week: Will robots really replace us?

This question has been floating around for decades but it is one that feels more and more relevant as we continue our journey through the digital age. The introduction of Alexa a couple of years ago was the first time I started to consider that robots could eventually take over. Eventually. But to what extent?

Several talks at this year’s London edition of Social Media Week were focussed on the fact that whilst machines will become smarter, AI will become increasingly integrated into our daily lives, machines will not replace us, they will simply augment us. Robots will not take over. Right?!

Some brands are embracing advances in technology but often at the expense of human consideration. Here are just a few of my highlights from the day.

HeyHuman MD Neil Davidson talked about the need for brands who embrace technology to maintain a human element in order to make their audience better connect with the message. Audiences are after all, well… human. Bringing to life HeyHuman’s people-first approach, Neil used Burger King’s recent award-winning Whopper campaign, as an example of what not to do. Whilst it was indeed an innovative campaign, triggering any Google Home device within earshot to start reading from Whopper’s own Wikipedia page, they had failed to expect an inevitable internet backlash from people hacking the Wikipedia entry, highlighting the limitations of technology it was trying to champion.  

Examples of when it worked well included the ground-breaking male suicide app Meet Su which has humanised technology to great effect. And finally Droga5’s excellent ‘Did You Mean Mail Chimp?’ campaign was also showcased to talk through the importance of developing content that is recognised, resonant and relevant.

Google was up next talking about the importance of humanising technology. They quoted the 'two pizza rule' from Amazon’s CEO which suggests that if you need more than two pizzas to feed people working on a project, then you have too many people working on it. Noted.

Facebook shared stats on how reliance on technology is taking over our daily lives. It was no surprise to hear that 62% of us look at our phone 30 times a day, and that we absorb 3 hours of content a day. The fact we can now retain information after 0.25 seconds of exposure highlights how we have developed an almost insatiable appetite for information, as we are constantly fed information. Second screening has also become second nature with 57% using Facebook whilst watching TV. And a whopping 90% of us use Facebook whilst shopping, whether it be for inspiration, opinion, or recommendation.

Later in the day Justin Rezvani, CEO of influencer marketing agency Amplify, introduced me to the word "disintermediation" which he used to describe the lesser need for agencies in the modern advertising world, stating how technology and influencers are the only phases that a brand needs to pass through in order to reach its audience.

He talked about an exciting update to Alexa of the future, which is able to give real-time analytics on brand work. For example, you will soon be able to ask her "Alexa, how did the current XXX campaign perform for Sony Xperia?"

ITV were also there to offer their opinion on why the recent series of Love Island became such a monstrous hit. The panel, which included popular contestant Montana Brown and the Group Director of Online Paul Kanareck, were there to discuss how their integrated digital strategy helped the show become a huge success in a time when young people aren’t watching scheduled TV.

The use of contextually placed ads and bumpers also played a part in the show’s success, which at its peak saw more online engagement than when Trump won the presidency. There was a total of 1.5 billion Twitter impressions and 280 million video views.

While the digital strategy played a part in making the show a success, the fact that the show’s premise relies on observing very basic human interaction supports the idea the world will not be taken over by robots. I can’t see millions of young people tuning in daily to watch robots flirting in a Balearic villa anytime soon.

Robots have been the hot topic at tech conferences around the world for a number of years and while it is safe to say there is clearly going to be a shift in advertising of the future, there will always be a need for humans to program machines. Making a robot look human-like is one thing, but getting them to mirror a human’s vast emotional spectrum is another.

If you want to hear more about this year’s London edition of Social Media Week, or are keen to understand more around humanising technology, then please...

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Stephen Merry
Stephen Merry

Business Director and Mexican Leicesterfarian

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