Can artificial intelligence take over marketing?

Good thing: AI will revolutionize marketing.

Bad thing: AI will put many of us out of work.

That’s the word on the street and it’s partly true and partly false. Of course, we don’t yet know which part is true and which part is false. As AI and digital transformation ninja Jaspreet Bindra put it (tune on the Digital Gadfly podcast business line online), “in the future there will be two types of marketers – intelligent marketers who use AI and those who don’t”.

So AI will make the good guys smarter, better, more efficient and more creative. “Bleddy,” as my Goan friend Ramos once told me (in another context), “there are no shortcuts for lazy people who think life is all about drinking feni and pressing green buttons.”

While ChatGPT has garnered a lot of buzz lately, AI has been around in various marketing applications for a while. Here’s what AI already does (for the more advanced marketers):

• More precise targeting

• More personalized advertising

• Simplified content creation

• Automation, optimization of advertising

Within these areas are chatbots, speech recognition, email automation, CRM tools, and so on. All are of course urgently needed and have already proven themselves many times over. So if you’re a marketer who hasn’t been living under a rock lately, you’re already using some or all. I am interested in the question, can AI take over the marketing?

Do you remember the philosophical riddle “Ship of Theseus”? Where Theseus searches for his missing ship, only to find that someone has taken it and replaced all the parts? What if this happens at some point in a marketing organization, where all the functions are taken over by AI tools?

A similar now-classic thought experiment to illustrate this was put forward by the Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom in 2003. Bostrom envisioned a super-intelligent robot programmed with the seemingly innocuous goal of making paper clips. The robot eventually turns the whole world into a giant paper clip factory. Here are a few examples of how AI is going wrong – and right – in marketing:

Microsoft chatbot Tay was trained to talk on Twitter, so she could automatically post and chat in real time. Tay picked up the wrong conversations, especially those that contained bigoted language about certain races. Microsoft quickly ended the experiment.

Amazon once used an AI-powered recruiting tool to screen new job applicants. The tool scanned resumes submitted to Amazon over the past 10 years to find patterns that would help identify the best candidates at scale. The only problem was that the resumes were heavily geared towards men and perhaps cheekily concluded that the best employees were men.

Mondelez India’s “Is Diwali Aap #KiseKhushKarenge?” campaign starring Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan used AI to create India’s first hyper-personalized ad, targeting local retail stores in Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Indore, Ahmedabad and Lucknow using PIN codes were presented. We also saw SRK in deepfake mode, lip-synching the names of the stores. I’ll end with two quotes about AI to help you make a decision. (It’s not about marketing, though.)

“The development of full AI could mean the end of the human race… It would take off on its own and reshape itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, constrained by slow biological evolution, could not keep up and would be overtaken.”

– Stephen Hawking

“We need to stop and evaluate: how do we ensure that the potential of AI is harnessed not only for entertainment, arts, etc., but also for large-scale social change and inclusive development.”

– Abhishek Singh, Digital India Corporation

Shubho Sengupta is a digital marketer with an analog advertising agency past. He can be found at @shubhos preaching on food, fetishes and soccer