Sir Tim Berners-Lee:
If I have a virtual personal assistant and have somebody who is helping me do my shopping, for example, and they are working for me then they will be able to look at the web or data out there about different products and they will be able to compare them and prices and decide what I should choose. Now, if that’s the reality, then as a brand, you are not selling to me (the consumer). You are essentially selling to the machine or my agent. Suddenly, that means you need to be good at data. It means that you need to make sure that you have all your products and all the scripts are described in the data that the machine understands. Most of the work today is completely under wraps. We don’t see what companies are working on. AI development is pretty secretive.
Atifa Silk: What is your vision of the future?
Sir Tim Berners-Lee: Pixels. They are getting cheaper and so every time you go to a conference the stage has got more pixels on it and in an auditorium they may have 36 different video feeds. Bit by bit everything’s going to be covered by pixels. This is a good and a bad thing. It means that you won’t have to choose the wallpaper because you can just program it. So, that’s cool. In your house it means that you’ll be able to sit and the video will be on the wall surrounding you. It will be so good that your eyes won’t be able to tell that you’re not actually sitting in your house.
Video quality, I believe, will get to the point where it gets past the retina level, as Apple calls it. It will get to a point where the video graph isn’t perfect but it’s better than your eyes can see anyway. It’s like sound stereo. Do you remember when hi-fi came out? It was cool and everybody got stereo sets and they competed for the best frequency response. Then it suddenly got to the point where actually everybody’s stereo collection was just better, on the human ear anyway. So, people stopped arguing about it because the ear couldn’t tell that well. Video will get to a point when we can’t tell that well and it will be wraparound. That I believe will be a really interesting medium.
Atifa Silk: How will pixels transform the world?
Sir Tim Berners-Lee: We’re already starting to see hoardings become programmable. Paper hoardings are becoming rare because what’s the point of having to hire people to change the paper over? Potentially, it could be very intrusive. Imagine if an entire wall or hoarding in the street is covered with pixels, which are programmed by some outside company. In this world, it might actually be difficult to see because everything on that street could look like a jungle with lions and tigers rushing through it or something. So, you can imagine that you may want to say, for the point of view of drivers driving around, that actually your ability to display stuff on the outside of your car should be limited to only the side or only the roof of the car, but you can imagine pixels everywhere. So every surface will be pixels and you’ll be able to use it for anything and people will be able to rent out space with pixel pieces on it. Just think of the bandwidth, the pixels and the videos that could be created for each of us. It will be fun and a challenge I suppose.
THE AI REVOLUTION
As computers become ever more powerful, the capabilities of artificial intelligence are accelerating. And as AI turbo-charges our information gathering and processing capabilities, marketing will naturally be at the forefront of the AI revolution.
We can already see glimpses of what the future may hold for marketing in today’s “virtual personal assistants”, such as Apple Siri, Google Now and Microsoft Cortana. These services already help consumers find information about brands and products, and soon they will automate even more of our lives. That will create new challenges and opportunities for brands.
Sentient Virtual Personal Assistants
Although you can use Siri to add an appointment to your calendar, or ask for directions to a specific location, more complex tasks are beyond the capabilities of today’s virtual personal assistants (or VPAs).
But new VPA systems from companies like Viv are being designed to handle many of the things we’d expect a human assistant to do, such as rescheduling flights or coordinating the best time for a meeting based on several different people’s schedules.
Many of the smallest details of our lives will be taken over by our VPAs. For example, your VPA will order more tooth paste for you when the tube is running low. It will also adapt by watching your behaviour. If it notices that you’ve been making more environmentally conscious decisions in general, it might recommend a new brand of laundry detergent, based on the ingredients, the next time you need more.
Adapting to the New World
With sentient VPAs making many of our purchasing choices for us, brands will have to adapt. Instead of marketing directly to consumers, brands will have to market to algorithms. There is, of course, already a precedent for this to some degree in the world of search engine optimisation.
For example, all the products in a grocery shop will have “tagged” information including not just name and price, but also the essential ingredients, where they were produced and under what environmental and ethical conditions, and how far it was shipped, all so that our VPAs can make informed decisions on our behalf.
This ‘tagged-up world’, will be a vital part of how brands optimise their offerings for the age of the sentient VPA. Marketers will need to think hard about what types of product data to tag-up, and what types of offers make the most sense in different contexts.
Matching offers to the demands of consumers will become akin to high frequency trading, as brand algorithms race to provide consumers with the right offer at the right time, based on real-time data.
Maintaining positive brand sentiment will also be crucial. Feedback from other customers will be one of the most important signals that sentient VPAs look at when deciding whether to recommend a product to you.
Of course, traditional direct to consumer advertising won’t go away. We’ll still be able to ask our VPAs to book a stay at a hotel that we read about, or to stock our refrigerator with a new brand of soda that we want to try.
AI will radically change what we do, and create huge new challenges in reaching consumers. But even if our messages will reach fewer people, they will, in the future, reach only the right people. Marketing will become more effective for brands, and less intrusive for customers.
PHD Worldwide explores the impact of AI in ‘Sentience: The Coming AI Revolution and the Implications for Marketing’