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Neil Davidson of HeyHuman: how brands can humanise AI

News stories often espouse doomsday scenarios in the field of AI. The likes of Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking believe increased automation could annihilate jobs, worsen inequality, cause political upheaval and potentially even spell the end of the human race.

No-one knows, or agrees on, what ‘the singularity’ could look like, but we do know it’s inevitable. When AI transcends being just being a tool of humanity, it could become the master of its own destiny – and some think our undoing. However, humanity’s saviour could, in part, come from one of the most unlikely of places – brands.

Branding exists to put a human face to a product and we’ve been making ‘stuff’ resonate on an emotional level for decades. Emotional intelligence [EI] is arguably the future of AI. By integrating tracking software that detects our emotions via facial expressions, eye movements, voice and heart rates, a machine can respond in a more emotionally articulate and intelligent way.

EI is the beating heart of AI. Its ability to understand human feelings and emotional input means AI can learn from information to provide human-like responses. While the applications for EI have, to date, been largely within the medical field, there’s little doubt the commercial applications for advertisers are hugely significant. As these become more apparent, there’s little doubt funding for this technology will rise exponentially.

However, in the meantime, it’s fair to say brands’ experiences with AI have been, at times, less successful. Earlier in the year, Burger King saw an opportunity to do something exciting with intelligent personal assistants which ended up backfiring in the crudest of ways. The chain’s whopper advert commanded Google Home devices to read out the burger’s entry on Wikipedia and its ingredients were changed to include cyanide, rat meat and toenail clippings.

Burger King certainly didn’t see it coming – and neither did we admittedly – but in trying to do something different with the technology, it was perhaps an inspired fail.

The impact of public opinion which is influenced in great part by popular culture – notably films like The Terminator and The Matrix – may well put the brakes on the confident adoption of AI. However, it may be brands like Burger King, alongside the digital giants like Amazon and Google, that could ultimately be the driving force for the AI revolution.

As the field advances, we need to learn from previous failings and ensure machines function with a degree of consciousness and intuition. We need to master the machine to amplify and accelerate our work. Machines must do the heavy lifting and we use our creativity to make best use of the choices they present us with.

Brands need to get the dynamic right in an increasingly automated world. We need to work with new concepts to help develop technology that is both empathetic and intuitive to human need.

And while it may be hard to predict the future of AI, equipping machines with emotional intelligence is a certainly a step in the right direction.

Neil Davidson is managing director of HeyHuman.

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