Artificial Intelligence is set to be the top trend of 2017. Amazon's Jeff Bezos has said it's hard to overstate how big an impact AI is going to have on society over the next 20 years.
Google's Sundar Pichai has talked of a shift from mobile-first to an AI-first world. And Mark Zuckerberg has dreamt up an AI assistant that shoots his T-shirts at him. Yes, really.
Using artificial Intelligence (AI for short), computers can be taught to do particular things like drive a car or make recommendations based on consumers' preferences. But artificial intelligence is all around us already. Apple has built deep neural networks into its operating systems and Google already uses artificial intelligence to recognise faces in photos.
So what does AI mean for media outlets and marketing firms?
There are a host of uses for publishers. AI could be used to create products that serve news and information to audiences tailored to their interests and personal preferences. Just as Netflix learns to pander to users' tastes, publishers could learn to serve better stories - and ads - to audiences.
AI also has a role to play in the eradication of fake news. The likes of Google and Facebook could use it to create systems that spot misinformation and stop its spread.
Publishers could also use AI to generate stories without journalists. Of course, this only applies to a certain type of story. Structured data like match reports, stock market performance reviews would work fine - and in fact already does. Since 2014, the Associated Press has used software to generate quarterly earnings reports. Other companies such as Credit Suisse and American Century Investments have all tested automated-writing products that write investment reports that are nearly indistinguishable from those written by humans.
Forward-thinking advertisers have also been dipping their toes in the AI ocean. Havas, for one, has set up Havas Cognitive and has been working with IBM's Watson, an artificially intelligent computer system designed to answer questions on the American quiz show Jeopardy! But Havas has been putting it to work on marketing campaigns. One, for online stockbroker TD Ameritrade, used an algorithm to seek out the most confident football fans on social media. The system, which used psycholinguistic analysis of fans' social posts, could also be used to automatically test and optimise creative copy for different audiences.
Nordic Media Giant Schibsted Media Group produces an annual Future Report. This year's instalment sees AI take a starring role. But according to Azeem Azhar, Schibsted's VP of Venture & Foresight, the more prevalent it becomes, the less obvious it is. "We underplay the remarkable scientific achievements of computers that can transcribe speech or drive a car," Azhar writes. "Indeed, as many in the industry have noted, 'We stop calling it AI when it starts to work', unfairly moving the goalposts whenever AI looks likely to score.
By many previous measures AI has not just scored, but has already won the game."
Azhar warns that companies that invest early and heavily in AI, and those with the most data, stand to build massive competitive advantages. One of the risks with AI, therefore, is the creation of monopolies that would make Google's search monopoly and Facebook's social monopoly seem trivial. "Data network effects favour those with the most data - will the rest of us become mere sharecroppers?" Azhar wonders.
Artificial intelligence may, therefore, see a new digital divide open. The biggest and most ambitious marketers and media outlets can choose to create their own bots, their own products that personalise and build their own troves of first party data. While companies with less resources may choose to buddy up with Google, Baidu, Facebook, or whoever, providing them with user data.
Worst case scenario: AI will accelerate the changes that the media industry has undergone since the arrival of the internet. Those with the data, the data scientists and the head start will develop better products and unassailable reach. Everyone else will eat their dust. The haves will have more and the have nots will be lucky to be snapped up as part of continuous consolidation, which will see the bigger players amass more and more information and intelligence.
How's that for a cheery prediction at the start of a new year?
Sunday Indo Business