Mastering Data and Human Empathy

Despite the fact that the first wave of Artificial Intelligence (AI) started in the 1950s, the modern-day hype around it is only getting louder. There has been a long-standing debate on whether AI is here to stay and take over human jobs, in the marketing communications industry and others.

“Whatever your job is, the chances are that one of these machines can do it faster or better than you can.”

And yes, it is true that many jobs will be made obsolete as technology continues to progress and innovation accelerates. It has already happened in many industries and will continue to proliferate, creating an almost-immediate requirement for some professions to acquire new skills or reposition their trade in order to safeguard their employability.

Yet, when a smart technology like Siri is asked a very fundamental question, “What is love?”, it is unable to comprehend and can only respond with an “I can’t answer that”. Humans, on the other hand, can express it in hundreds and thousands of ways. And that, is the very difference between machines and people. The ability to feel. To be creative. To be intuitive.

While modern AI is good at most things, it is certainly not good at everything. “A self-driving car can drive millions of miles, but it will eventually encounter something new for which it has no experience,” explains Pedro Domingos, the author of The Master Algorithm and a professor of computer science at the University of Washington. It is important that we recognize that deep learning is a form of mathematics and does not compensate for common sense or human psychology.

It is not a competition, it is about being collectively creative.

So, it really boils down to this: human and machines are not meant to compete; they are meant to complement. While humans are great at being intuitive and creative, machines are good at sifting through large amounts of data to produce and crystalize information that will inform the human decision-making process. It is not a competition, it is about being collectively creative.

And the mastering of this combination of human and machine in order to amplify each other’s strength can already be seen in some great everyday works. Take Netflix, for example, as they use algorithms to analyse how their audiences behave on the platform – the kind of content they like, how often they watch a show and how long they spend watching it. This data is then used by screenwriters and producers to create new content that would appeal to their audiences and keep them coming back for more.

At OMD, we call this mastering of the human-machine partnership, ‘Artful Intelligence’.

Artful intelligence is about combining big data with human empathy. It is beyond stats and charts; while it is important to know where your consumers come from and how they move through the purchase funnel, it is equally important to understand what they are feeling and experiencing, and the ability to place ourselves in their position.

Empathy: what makes us truly human.

While there is increasing talk about how AI can eventually evolve into Artificial Empathy, it will never be truly empathetic as it is does not have the ability to share emotion. Machines can be programmed to recognise and respond to certain human emotions, but not to actually feel them. And feeling empathy towards a subject is the key to creating great art.

Powerful photojournalism, such as that which we are currently seeing from the USA-Mexico border, resonates with audiences because the photographer not only observed and captured the distress of the crying two-year-old child, but felt it – he “wanted to stop her crying” and that carried through in his work. The great speeches of Martin Luther King moved people because the speechmaker shared the hopes, fears and ambitions of the audience. Picasso’s Guernica represents a landmark moment in art because it resulted from a visceral response to an eyewitness account of the bombing during the Spanish War. These are all successful examples because they convey empathy.

In the world of communications, it is this understanding of the human emotions, and an empathy for the consumer experience with a brand that sits at the heart of Artful Intelligence. It is how we are able to make more empathetically designed end-to-end brand experiences. Experiences that are more commercially valuable to the brand because they are more valued by the consumer.

While we, OMD, are always head-down in the data, we also keep our eyes open to the real world. And what we see is a future that is not about machines versus humans, but about how we will be Better Together. Therefore, Artful Intelligence is not the future. It is what will create the future.