The rise of the machines is no longer just the stuff of dystopian sci-fi fantasy.
Today, automation has gone mainstream in virtually all aspects of business and life. We depend on robots in some form or fashion to execute any number of daily tasks—from searching with Siri, to vacuuming the living room floor, to automating virtually everything that isn’t nailed to the ground in the modern data center.
In a sense, the machines have already taken over—and we’re generally happy for it.
Not everyone, of course. There’s little doubt that automation has upended labor-intensive industries, displacing generations of industrial workers while delivering new efficiencies to the bottom line. And even in knowledge work, we’ve offloaded previously human-centric tasks in favor of robotic alternatives. Legal discovery, for example, used to keep lots of lawyers busy and billable, but it’s now the province of the machines.
If you look at any industrial operation, automation has paved the path to progress. Every subsequent increase in scale and complexity has demanded yet another layer of automation. Why? Because the combinatorial madness of parts flung in motion at scale and velocity can’t be reliably reconciled by the human brain. It’s the reason fighter jets are driven by software—human pilots simply lack the reflexes to make the small, real-time adjustments necessary to keep the aircraft stable.
With the digitalization of marketing practices, the same dynamics will also become apparent. Consider the speed and complexity of managing audience engagement across the proliferating constellation of paid, earned and owned channels. Automation is simply necessary to execute with precision and speed as audiences wend and wind the path to purchase.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that the operational foundations of digital marketing are rapidly giving way to machines. But what about creative functions? Automation already helps us with ideation and curation. But can it overtake human effort? For example, can automation commoditize the human genius now required to produce emotionally evocative content? Can this lightning in a bottle be canned and distributed at scale?
My first instinct is to say absolutely no way, no how. But upon further reflection, I’m left with slightly less conviction.
Why? Because human emotion itself can be reliably manipulated. The triggers of human emotion are reducible to predictable model. Need proof? Look at Hollywood, which has made a business of reductive storytelling. In particular, consider the sentimental biopics and prime time crime dramas that, despite (or actually because of) their reductiveness draw audiences in droves. If something can be reduced to a model, can’t it ultimately be reproduced with automation?
It’s a crazy notion, I know, but I put it to the test on some of the best content marketing I’ve seen recently. When Nike inspires us to reach for our personal best, I’m ready to run up a mountain. This stuff is that inspiring! But it’s also totally formulaic. It appeals to the known centers of human emotion. Wacky, I know, but it’s got to make you think …
Today, the robots are very much at our service, but maybe with time, we’ll see them chipping away at the creative currency of our profession.
What do you think?