Good thing: AI is going to revolutionise marketing.

Bad thing: AI will make many of us jobless.

That’s the word on the street and it’s partly true and partly false. Of course, we don’t know which part is true and which part is false - yet. As the AI and Digital Transformation Ninja Jaspreet Bindra put it (do tune into the Digital Gadfly podcast on businessline online), “in the future there will be two types of marketers - smart marketers who use AI and those who don’t”.

So AI is going to make the good smarter, better, more efficient, and more creative. “Bleddy,” as my Goan friend Ramos told me once (in a different context), “there’s no shortcuts for lazy people who think life is all about drinking feni and hitting green buttons.”

While ChatGPT has created a lot of buzz lately, AI has been around for a while now, in various marketing applications. Here’s what AI is already doing (for the more evolved marketers):

AI and marketing: What do we expect?  AI and marketing: What do we expect?  

• Making targeting more precise

• Making advertising more personalised

• Making content creation easier

• Automating, optimising advertising

Within these areas, there are chatbots, speech recognition, email automation, CRM tools, and so on. All are much-needed of course, and they have already proven themselves many times over. So if you’re a marketer not living under a rock lately, you already use some or all. What interests me is the question, can AI take over marketing?

Do you remember the philosophical puzzle, Ship of Theseus? Where Theseus goes looking for his missing ship, only to realise someone took it and replaced all the parts? What if that happens in a marketing organisation at some point, here all functions are taken over by AI tools?

A similar, now-classic thought experiment illustrating this was posed by the Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom in 2003. Bostrom imagined a super-intelligent robot, programmed with the seemingly innocuous goal of manufacturing paper clips. The robot eventually turns the whole world into a giant paper clip factory. Here are a few examples of AI in marketing going wrong – and right:

The Microsoft chatbot Tay was trained on conversations happening on Twitter, so that she could automatically post and chat in real time. Tay picked up the wrong conversations, especially those containing bigoted language about certain races. Microsoft quickly shut down the experiment.

Amazon once used an AI-powered recruiting tool to vet new job candidates. The tool scanned the resumes submitted to Amazon over the previous 10 years to find patterns that would help identify the very best candidates at scale. The only problem was that the resumes were heavily skewed towards men, and perhaps cheekily concluded that the best hires were men.

Mondelez India’s ‘Iss Diwali Aap #KiseKhushKarenge?’ campaign, featuring Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, leveraged AI to create India’s first hyper-personalised ad, where local retail stores in Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Indore, Ahmedabad and Lucknow were featured according to pin codes. We also saw SRK in deep fake mode, lip synching the names of the stores. I will end with two quotes about AI, to help you make up your mind. (They’re not about marketing though.)

“The development of full AI could spell the end of the human race….It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”

— Stephen Hawking

“We need to pause and assess: How do we ensure that the potential of AI is harnessed not just for entertainment, art, etc., but also for large-scale social transformation and inclusive development.”

— Abhishek Singh, Digital India Corporation

Shubho Sengupta is a digital marketer with an analogue ad agency past. He can be found @shubhos, pontificating on food, fetishes and football