From Terminator to Ex Machina, machine learning has always been a sci-fi phenomenon, but robots and artificial intelligence now play an increasing role in our working lives. In 2016, few topics have been discussed as frequently and caused as much controversy in the digital community. Machine learning is now on everyone’s agenda including Google’s who recently opened their new research centre in Zurich, Switzerland.
Searches related to machine learning have rocketed in 2016. Everyone’s talking about it and everyone wants to learn more.
Figure 1 - Source
Indeed, the machine learning course offered by Stanford University via Coursera is the second most popular MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) of all time.
Not enough that as planners and strategists we are under the constant scrutiny of Google. Could we now lose our jobs to machines? Will they outsmart human intelligence including our work in the digital space?
Figure 2 - Source
Silicon Valley start-up founder and Machine Learning Expert, Anthony Goldbloom, addressed that exact question in his Ted Talk. His company, Kaggle, takes machine learning to a whole new level of efficiency. In 2012, Kaggle engineered an algorithm, which was able to grade high school essays. Last year, they took this a step further by creating another algorithm which could diagnose diabetic retinopathy, an eye disease which can eventually lead to blindness. This was possible because of machine learning.
Despite his company’s success with education and healthcare projects, Goldbloom still admitted to one fundamental flaw… there are jobs machines can’t do.
Machines are great at frequent, high-volume tasks using large sets of historic data. However, when it comes to new situations, machines cannot outperform human thinking (A. Goldbloom).
For this reason, the role of the digital strategist is still vital and won’t be disappearing from Google’s index anytime soon.
As digital strategists only we can conduct competitor analyses by applying our unique insight and respond to changes in business’ requirements, cross-channel marketing campaigns and KPI reporting.
Machines won’t replace the resourcefulness and creativity, copywriters bring to the table when creating bespoke campaign copy and capturing a brand’s unique tone of voice. Paid media strategists will still be needed for optimisation planning, bidding strategies and audience targeting.
Experts like Goldbloom argue that machine learning can help us reduce the time spent on complex big data tasks. We don’t need to look too far outside our own industry. RankBrain is already helping Google process billions of sites, enabling it to offer more personalised, relevant search results to users.
Yet, it will still be down to the digital strategists to respond to ad hoc changes, new client requirements and wider business challenges which may completely turn the direction of a digital marketing campaign on its head. In fact, the BBC’s Will a Robot Take Your Job? quiz claims that it’s quite unlikely (1%) that we’ll have our jobs taken over by machines in the next twenty years.
So, don’t worry, Digital Strategists. You’re still in demand and much needed as long as you stay flexible, respond to change and embrace your new team member, Ex Machina.