The Battle of the Century; AI vs. the Human Mind


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Artificial intelligence (AI) plays a large role in our industry and has been a hot topic for decades. With Siri and Alexa helping us throughout the day, AlphaGo’s historic victory against world champ Lee Sedol, and Tesla’s self-driving car system, one might wonder where that leaves us humans?

There are a lot of opinions around how the rise of the machines will impact humanity. From Elon Musk who went as far as claiming that AI is our biggest existential threat, to Alan Perlis saying that spending time in AI makes you believe in God.

Just take a look at the movie Hidden Figures that tells the story of a time at the height of the Space Race when human calculations were more trusted than computers. Yet, this was in 1969, almost 50 years ago, its 2017 now and we’ve come a long way. People who are intimidated by technology are obviously in the wrong spot, but are machines better than humans at making decisions and running campaigns? The answer to that question lies somewhere in the middle and this is especially true for those of us in marketing.

Think about it, how can a marketer constantly know what content, campaigns, offers, channels, a customer is engaging with, and conversely not engaging with by looking at the available data? Or set advertising bids, select keywords, and ad copy as fast as a machine? We simply can’t, at least not within a timeframe that is humanly possible. AI can do this quicker, better, and constantly learns and improves along the way. So, are we about to become extinct?

Well, no, not yet. AI can’t understand sarcasm, tell a joke, laugh, or be truly creative in the sense of creating something from scratch. Just take a look at the recent Facebook shutdown of its AI chatbots, because they were not able to talk to people in a way that was expected from them. Human oversight is still necessary to make sense of the social and emotional context.

However, if AI can make sense of big amounts of data to improve customer engagement with personalised communications and do it quicker, better, and in real-time, then what’s not to like? This frees up time and budget for us marketers to focus on adding value to our marketing strategies and making that emotional connection with our customers.

Regan Yan
Regan Yan is the CEO of Digital Alchemy, Asia Pacific's most trusted database marketing partner. Regan is a subject-matter expert in analytical database marketing and customer relationship marketing, as well as an in-demand presenter and keynote speaker at national and international events.


  1. AI is an aid for humanity, not a replacement; but, it is becoming more sophisticated all the time. This concerns philosophers within the high tech community, and rightly so. It isn’t just the battle of the century. It’s the battle of the present and future.

    You’ve cited Hidden Figures as a seminal movie in this regard.. Suggest watching Bicentennial Man, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and AI for additional perspective. Also, the very first issue of Mad Magazine (October, 1952), had a great story – “Blobs”, by Wallace Wood – of what could happen to mankind if we rely too heavily on machines to do our thinking and work: It is based on a 1909 story by E. M. Forster, “The Machine Stops”, so we are already well past a century of addressing this issue.

  2. Part of the challenge with AI is how discussions about it are framed. In this case, versus. I understand that some naturally view AI as in head-to-head conflict with humans. The same was true in the industrial revolution, with people concerned about machinery eroding the need for human labor. Similar to today, those voices got loud, and unfortunately, they overwhelmed conversations about how machines could substantially improve economic vitality and quality of life. Today, few could argue that it’s better to revert.

    Rather than examining AI – or other nascent technologies – through the lens of “us versus them,” it’s healthier to consider the risks and new problems the technologies will bring about. There are many. Doing so also means abandoning (or ignoring) the breathless hype and fawning admiration that marketers and salespeople are so prone to giving whenever the next “shiny object” has started to glimmer.

    This rigor is sadly lacking among the business community and the agencies that regulate them. Mostly, companies receive funding for developing the next great thing, and in an attempt to woo those firms to their states, politicians stick their heads in the sand and overlook any potential misuse or problems that might occur later on.

    Arizona governor Doug Ducey looked like an idiot for endorsing Theranos before ever taking the time to discover the deep flaws in the company’s technology. People died as a result. To avoid repeating that mistake and others, AI demands the same circumspection and risk awareness. But I don’t think framing a confrontational discussion serves that purpose. I see this less as a battle, and more as an opportunity.


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