For Christmas, like many of you, I was given an Amazon Echo. While Alexa isn't as functionally capable as one would like I believe she will improve. One of my favorite features is the flash news briefing. Users have the ability to select the news sources and by simply saying "Alexa, tell me the news" she'll cycle through short audio summaries from those sources made available through the service TuneIn. It's great.
While listening to my flash briefing this morning I heard a fantastically interesting conversation between Senior Editor at the Economist Anne Mcelvoy (@annemcelvoy), the author of Humans Need Not Apply, Jerry Kaplan and Ryan Avent (@ryanavent). You can hear the full episode here: http://econ.st/1US6E60.
The conversation centers around the impact of advanced digitization and artificial intelligence on human tasks within the context of work. The general fear is that if AI becomes too advanced it will make humans obsolete. The question of which jobs are subject to automation is an interesting one because people tend to fear that automating tasks means getting rid of the human who previously performed that task. Thankfully it doesn't work that way. As Jerry Kaplan put it, "you don't roll in a robot and roll out a person."
Retailers and ecommerce businesses have been leveraging marketing automation technology for some time now. Automation and AI systems work well on tasks which are routine, repetitive and well defined. But our jobs consist of a variety of tasks. Some fit the routine, repetitive and well defined criteria. Other tasks require critical thinking and deep levels of analysis. There are also ad hoc situations, varying and abstract. We also must not undermine the value of human emotions and how emotions impact purchase decisions. This is ultimately where AI and automation technology falls short. I believe there is little to panic over. Our jobs as digital commerce professionals and marketers are safe. There’s no compromise for experience, developing specialized skills and contextual awareness. There’s no compromise for the human element.
Yet digital commerce and marketing initiatives will benefit from some level of AI. Freeing human merchandisers, marketers, and e-commerce managers from the mundane but critical tasks of uploading new prices and deploying content allows them to do what every industry expert has long advocated – develop personalized experiences.
Imagine if your marketing team was free to focus on creating incredibly targeted promotions and merchandise to segments of one or two? How much more time would you have to devote to complex human processes like critical thinking and data analysis? To put it another way, how much better would you be at selling if your existing team was free from mundane tasks? To focus on leveraging their specialized skill-sets to move the needle rather than maintaining the status quo? Heck, you might even be able to create some customer experiences your customers don't know they want.