Following is also my latest MediaPost Spin column…Â
Machines Threaten Advertising Grunt Workers
March 21st, 2008 by Max Kalehoff
According to Garry Kasparov, the former world-champion chess player, the British mathematician Alan Turing envisioned the yet-to-be-invented computer playing chess and beating the human world champion. When computers first arrived at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in the 1950s, the scientists immediately started programming them to play chess. Since then, one of the most prominent narratives in computing and artificial intelligence has been a computer capable of beating the world champion. That historical day arrived on May 11, 1997, when IBM’s Deep Blue narrowly defeated Kasparov in a six-game match.
While the world’s infatuation with master-chess-playing computers has leveled off, a similar man-versus-machine debate is likely to become more prominent in our advertising industry. Creativity is just as important as ever, but the notion of “everything advertising is digital” and the inextricable link to numbers has created several cognitive intersections not unlike chess. Wherever numbers, chance and skill are involved, you can guarantee a quest for automation and artificial intelligence to achieve advantage.
Admittedly, advertising is far more complex than chess, and a singular computer program competing with humans across the board is highly unlikely. However, computers and algorithms are showing promise where manual, repetitive human labor breed inefficiencies and frustration.
Of course, this promise is underscored with Google’s contextual ad-auction system, the mother of all automated advertising systems right now. And it’s led the path for a new breed of automated systems that auction, broker, target and optimize. Consider Tacoda, Revenue Science, Rubicon Project, Turn and even my own startup, Clickable, among others. These varied systems increasingly deliver sophisticated analytics and action-oriented recommendations that yield smarter, more profitable outcomes. Some systems are designed to first benefit publishers, while others are designed to benefit advertisers. Regardless, with over 300 ad networks (or more depending on how you count them), any system to make advertising in the digital age more manageable, efficient and effective is welcomed.
So what does all this automation mean for the human masters of advertising? Is the human-versus-machine debate really valid? Can machines outright beat or even replace humans? There is some speculation that they can in some areas, or at least transform the game. This was underscored at the recent OMMA Hollywood conference, where a keynote panel debated whether automated buying systems might replace the traditional planning and buying process.
It was noted that media buyers are struggling to scale on a manual basis, as well as optimize, and that technology is proving instrumental to targeting and delivering on goals. Automation is removing grunt work and introducing efficiencies that enable humans to deliver more premium value. In other words, machines are making humans bionic. This results in market expectations for higher standards and better outcomes.
What does this mean? Machines aren’t replacing humans outright, but the quest to transform the advertising industry with automation is fierce. Professionals in all corners of the advertising ecosystem must embrace math-based automation to remain competitive. Not doing so will result in demise.
And what if you’re a manual grunt worker? Look out. Your days are definitely numbered.