It has becoming increasingly popular to fret about AI “taking our jobs,” as marketers. Not replacing the routine, unpleasant tasks which are part of our jobs and freeing up time for creativity, which has been happening since animal power began to replace human power in the fields. Not changing what industries produce, which began happening when companies like GE transitioned to being data companies. But actually making human labor obsolete, as a recent NY Times article alleged.
This hysteria mainly comes from those who can’t imagine what has yet to be discovered, and who haven’t envisioned what more remains to be invented. This block in imagination is not new. It goes at least as far back to when the Luddites were frightened of the steam-powered loom, and probably even earlier still.
The fear that we have become too productive and soon the workforce will be out of work has been part of the American story from the invention of the assembly line to that of the modern robot. TIME Magazine published an article in 1961 about the “automation jobless.” John Maynard Keynes predicted a 15-hour workweek because of increasing productivity. Yet, the workweek has not shortened and unemployment has been falling. What we’ve actually seen is that becoming more productive doesn’t put humans out of business, it increases the size and diversity of businesses available.
This idea has been illustrated very nicely with the invention of the phonograph. The totally understandable fear was that it would replace musicians. What actually happened was that music consumption exploded. More types of music, more people consuming music, people who already consumed music consuming more. And of course, some people still consume live music, which has become a premium product. As it became easier to make music, we wanted more, not less.
This pattern is a fundamental tenet of economics - the cheaper something becomes, the more we want. The Luddites may have been right in their fear if the rise of the power loom hadn’t been accompanied by the rise in the number of outfits in our closets. The cheaper and easier clothing is to obtain, the more and more variety of it we want. This is even more true with data. The more we get, the more we want. The more ways we want to slice and dice it. The more things we want to measure. The quicker we want it. As marketers know well, we are constantly monitoring many data streams, and evaluating them in many ways. The market is overflowing with tools to do this very thing.
Marketing jobs are secure because of Moravec’s paradox: "it is comparatively easy to make computers exhibit adult level performance on intelligence tests or playing checkers, and difficult or impossible to give them the skills of a one-year-old when it comes to perception and mobility." The routine tasks will be replaced with AI. The creative tasks will continue to grow exponentially.
This is very similar to what happened when spreadsheets became commercially available. The routine math, previously done by bookkeeping clerks, was automated. The number of bookkeeping clerk positions plummeted. However, when that tedium was removed, the amount of accounting work skyrocketed. Business people played with many more numbers, tuning their businesses and even their household budgets in a way that was never before possible. Spreadsheets lead to the democratization of data. And today, AI is replacing expensive experts, allowing a much wider population to have access to custom shopping recommendations, personal play lists, carefully crafted driving directions, and so much more.
AI and other software has already been a great help to the marketer. The arithmetic of monitoring campaigns and aggregating results has largely been handed over already. AI, such as WEVO’s model for simulating A/B tests, allows marketers to test pages before the launch and without risk. A/B testing tools allow the predicted winners to be tested in controlled experiments. But the bulk of the marketers work still persists. Brand management and corporate identity take a human perception that cannot be automated. Evaluating the effectiveness of a campaign can come from software, but the explanation of why and how to adapt strategy must come from an experienced marketer. And of course, the types of marketing will expand, as well. The digital marketer job role didn’t even exist twenty years ago.
As President Johnson said in 1964: “If we understand it, if we plan for it, if we apply it well, automation will not be a job destroyer or a family displaced. Instead, it can remove dullness from the work of man and provide him with more than man has ever had before.” And, of course, women.