What a difference a year makes!

As the curtain closed on Davos in 2017, a headline could have read, “Google TOTALLY Missed AI!” as Sergey Brin was quoted, lamenting that he “didn’t pay attention to [artificial intelligence] at all.” He continued by sharing that, “having been trained as a computer scientist in the ‘90s, everybody knew that AI didn’t work. People tried it…and none of it worked.”

In his Davos session, Brin admitted that while AI took him by surprise, what might actually be more shocking was just how deeply AI had already taken hold at Google. He revealed that AI, in the form of Google Brain, touches “every single one of our main products, ranging from search to photos to ads…the revolution has been very profound. It definitely surprised me, even though I was sitting right there.”

Somehow, this makes me feel a bit better. I mean, if one of the guys that cooked up BackRub in their dorm room missed it, it’s okay that I might need some time with AI, right? (That’s right, it was originally called BackRub and later renamed Google. I’ll just pause here for a second as you go ahead and imagine a world where they didn’t change that name…“Okay, BackRub, when’s my next meeting?”)

While some were waiting for Donald Trump to dominate headlines, it may have been AI that stole the show. Every world leader—and every corporate leader—wanted to talk about AI. According to Bloomberg, the term “artificial intelligence” appeared in more than 20 headlines from the forum. Thanks to their excellent reporting, I offer you a taste of the conversations:

  • Alibaba’s founder believes that AI and robots are going to “kill a lot of jobs” and could actually start World War III.
  • Google’s CEO had a less doomsday-style prediction, reducing the impact to really only being more important to humanity than the mastery of fire or electricity…you know, just sort of
  • Former-Googler Kai-Fu Lee of Google China pointed out that this feeling everyone was sensing is what the cool kids call FOMO: the fear of missing out.
  • Leave it to A.T. Kearney to bring it back down to earth by explaining that AI could actually automate corporate decision-making, essentially relieving managers from the time spent on administrative coordination and giving them time back on things like strategic thinking and problem-solving.
  • Perhaps my favorite battle cry came from IBM’s Ginni Rometty, who told Davos that there was a corporate obligation to prepare in a vein a bit more akin to Karl Marx than Peter Drucker: “Prepare the workers of the world for this revolution!” Now, we are all left to wonder if this revolution will be televised and if we can ask Alexa to record it for us.

But perhaps the prediction to pay most attention to came from U.K. Chancellor Philip Hammond, who believes that AI could double the rate of economic growth in advanced economies by 2035. DOUBLE. THE. RATE. OF. GROWTH. No wonder the FOMO is real!

For now, let’s let Watson, Leonardo, Sensei and Einstein all rock-paper-scissors it out for who will be the new sentient leader of the world over in the corner. What bubbles to the top of my mind is a simple question that we marketers must address: With AI tools powering personalization across the commerce journey and the very real fact that an individualized customer experience is now table stakes versus a unique moment of differentiation and delight, what does the consumer actually want and expect?

In other words: have we asked ourselves should we, or have we only asked can we?

The reality of today’s technology is that the world of experience and engagement is filled with opportunities to flex our data and creative muscles. We have sped headfirst away from the days of “I wish I could…” and into the days of “look what I can do” when it comes to individualized experiences that thrill and delight the average shopper. But the customer is looking for some very specific things as they consider where and how to spend their money. Most specifically, they are looking for value.

This will be the big question that AI will need to answer for marketers. In a specific individual’s moment of need, what value can be delivered to maximize opportunity? Where and how can we better track experiences to walk alongside our customers rather than continuing to develop costly disruptions aimed at knocking customers off of their own course and onto ours?

Thankfully, the CMO Council archives all editions of Marketing Magnified, so next year, at the close of Davos 2018, I can look back and wonder if any of the predictions have started to come true. And if the machines have really taken over, and World War III has begun, my money’s on the machines…so if they are reading this, remember that marketers are friends—not foes.

Till next month!

Liz Miller (@lizkmiller)

  • Marketing
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