“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.” — HAL
It was 55 years ago that Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick explored the thrilling and terrifying dance between man and machine in their sci-fi masterpiece “2001: A Space Odyssey.” As the brain of the spaceship in the novel and movie, HAL is an onboard robot that uses information systems to become human-like. An acronym standing for Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer, “Heuristic” and “Algorithmic” are two primary processes of human intelligence. Dave is the main character, the mission commander, who finds himself locked outside the spacecraft, asking HAL to open the pod bay doors and let him back in. HAL says no, the mission is too important to allow humans to jeopardize it. Clarke and Kubrick were prescient men.
Today, society stands at the threshold of — depending on how one looks at it — a revolutionary new age of content generation or a potentially HAL-ish moment in history: the dawn of easily accessed generative artificial intelligence (AI). In 2001: A Space Odyssey, when HAL becomes sentient and chooses to lock Dave out of the spaceship, we see a prediction of what could happen if AI-powered machines were to break bad. Even the CEO of OpenAI has testified before Congress that he believes AI needs to be overseen and regulated to mitigate its risks and thwart the ill-intentioned.
Without delving further into the details of its origin or the debate about the socioeconomic impacts, ethics and morality of AI, let’s look at the power this technology holds for the business of marketing communications.
First and foremost, it is our belief that generative AI programs, such as ChatGPT and DALL-E, are useful and beneficial tools, much as pen and paper, typewriter, computer, tablet, and smartphone have proven their worth in the communicator’s toolbox. Have the tools of the marketing trade become smarter and more powerful over time? Without a doubt. The phones in our pockets are exponentially smarter, faster and better tools than the first desktop Macs were in 1984. But the smartphone is still only a tool. In the hands of the right person, AI is another breathtakingly powerful creative tool. It is also out-of-this-world smart.
Released in 2022 by OpenAI, ChatGPT is a free AI-powered chatbot. ChatGPT answers questions typed in by the user. It responds in lightning-fast fashion, with eerily, almost unerringly human-like responses. It can develop simple or complex concepts and write about them, not only with the intelligence gleaned from thousands of years of reading and learning but often as if it possesses human feelings or emotional intelligence as well. If you haven’t tried ChatGPT yet, it’s at your fingertips: openai.com/blog/chatgpt
So, what is the emerging role of AI in marketing? We have three predictions:
1. Marketing strategists, writers and designers will use AI to jump-start creative ideas and content generation. An AI query can quickly, in seconds, identify what has been done before, maybe too many times, as it identifies patterns in strategy and content (both words and images). Because most AI creates from what already exists, we believe there will still be a need for original ideas created by humans. “HAL” may disagree. Only time will tell.
2. AI’s real power comes in asking it the right questions. Creative, effective marketers will become experts in honing the most pointed question or prompt to ask AI in order to achieve accurate, usable results. Sure, AI can deliver the answers from the database of all recorded human thinking, but if we are asking the wrong question, the results are only as good as the question asked.
3. Marketers will use AI to “get out of their own heads” and move to the universal with AI’s help in seeing those patterns. Great branding and advertising move us emotionally. We are all stirred by the same universal concepts, which show up in patterns across history. AI’s genius is in identifying those patterns.
Bottom Line: Don’t leave the spaceship. The ride is about to get interesting.
Steve Johnson is managing partner of Riger Marketing Communications in Binghamton. Contact him at email@example.com. Ann Rose is Riger’s art director. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.