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“Silicon Valley's mission to connect the world is disrupting democracy, helping plunge us into an age of political turbulence”

Recently I watched a BBC 2 documentary “Secrets of Silicon Valley” which touched on how Facebook can take a simple 'like' and use it to help Donald Trump become the 45th President of the US. 

Aided by a key insider from the Trump campaign's digital operation, the program unravelled the part played by social media and Facebook's vital role in getting Trump into the White House.  From here the documentary dissected how Facebook's vast power to persuade was built primarily for advertisers, combining data about our internet use and psychological insights into the way we think, creating the perfect tool to be used by Trump’s camp to target swing votes with emotional mechanisms that supercharge the spread of fake news.

OK so it's a bit more complex than that, but it got me thinking about how companies like Cambridge Analytica can take data so freely given (likes, shares, check-ins) add a sprinkle of AI and build a terrifyingly accurate predictive consumer portrait and further enhance the “echo chamber” effect of social media.  We’re giving away a goldmine of data, but is it actually reducing the quality of the content and media we get served? And is AI something that affects us all?

The conclusion I've come to is that it largely depends on your generation. 

Take my Dad for example, a man of the ‘baby boomer’ generation, 30-year career man, regular reader of the Daily Mail, advocate of ‘paper’ based media and somehow a chronic technophobe, who 'doesn't trust technology' but still considers himself an early adopter.

It’s unlikely AI impacts his behaviour much -  he wouldn't transact with a digital message served based on his 'digital self' on principal, finding it intrusive. He may use the internet to research products, but will always go in store to buy because he likes the experience and human interaction, even if the shop assistants don’t.

Compare that to me, a millennial, who welcomes technology and the fact that various companies deliver a suite of suitable offers to my inbox every morning based on my browsing preferences. I’m the opposite -  I sometimes get frustrated that they don't know me well enough (for instance, not understanding I’m a bargain hunter so, I regularly abandon baskets to go off and find a voucher code). If AI was as evolved as it should be, surely it would have learned to always deliver me an appropriate discount code to convert to purchase?

Another example of this would be the inability to determine between my digital self and digital work self.

Although my IP address will be the same, the device I’m using will determine my browsing habit - the latest car seat / DVD of Peppa Pig on my tablet and then booking train tickets / hotels on my work laptop. Even though technology has the ability to separate and serve me different offers based on my device ID, technology has not caught up to my expectations and serves me a real jumble of ads which interfere with my browsing experience.

AI is surely a powerful tool in the right hands. Clever organisations can use it to drive thousands of business efficiencies, including:

• Changing communications from reactive to pre-emptive 

• Personalising communications in real time – i.e. changing consumer next best steps on the fly 

• Improving cross-channel media planning

• Automatically visualising data

• Optimising customer Lifetime Value

However, like any other marketing tool, it needs to be handled sensitively, cleverly and with a good dash of common sense and consumer understanding. As a marketer, I’m excited about the power, speed and versatility AI can bring to a marketing campaign. As a consumer, there’s still a bit of winning over to be done.