The singularity is closer than we think | M&M Global

The singularity is closer than we think

A tipping point in the evolution of Artificial Intelligent is closer than we think. Jez Jowett, global head of creative technology at Havas Media, assesses the landscape and calls for greater debate to ensure a balance between the opportunities and perceived threat.


Back in May, I was walking down Regent Street in London when I came across a pop-up shop window display promoting the sale of ‘synthetic humans’. Two-metre high robots had been placed behind the glass and were mimicking and reacting to the movements of passers-by.

The stunt, by Channel 4 was promoting the drama ‘Humans’, which ended earlier this month and highlighted the issues around what would happen if robots developed a level of consciousness that resulted in a heightened instinct to survive in our human world.

The premise of the series was no different to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner in the early Eighties or I Robot, starring Will Smith in 2004. What’s changed in 2015 however, is that automated intelligence has now arrived and the singularity – the point at which Artificial Intelligence (AI) can match, and then overtake human smarts – will occur, for sure, within the next twenty-year period that separates these two films.

In other words, in the time it has taken us to go from Harrison Ford hunting Tyrell Corporation replicants that are ‘more human than human’ to Will Smith’s efforts to stop a robot revolution, science-fiction will morph further into our reality and super intelligent robots will walk among us, impacting how we interact with each other as well as with brands.

Understanding our intentions

AI has already infiltrated our lives much more than, perhaps we realise. We plan trips using GPS systems that rely on AI to cut through the complexity of millions of routes to find the best one to take. Our smartphones understand our speech, and Siri, Cortana, and Google Now are getting better at understanding our intentions.

Brands that have begun experimenting with AI include car manufacturers such as BMW, who launched its first electric car with iGenius – technology that was able to answer customers’ questions about the new vehicle via text. Not only was iGenius able to have hundreds of conversations at the same time, it could also memorise previous questions from each person to generate answers that were meaningful.

Facebook and Google are both building neural networks that can recognise the spoken word, target ads and learn how to recognise key features in digital images such as cars, landmarks and the ageing process in people’s faces. In media agencies, meanwhile, the programmatic buying and serving of ads is driving real-time campaign decisions at speeds impossible for the human brain to replicate.

The human race has experienced singularities before. The past two – the agricultural and industrial revolutions – resulted in huge growth in the British GDP. During the industrial revolution, the economy doubled from 1.5% in the 1750s to 3% by the 1840s.

Once machines become as smart as man, the economy will grow a lot faster than every one hundred years however. Problems will only arise with AI if meaningfulness is forsaken in favour of this increased productivity.

Personal and collective wellbeing

I don’t believe the robots will rise up against us, just yet. But I do believe that without a proper narrative around how AI could and should add meaningfulness to our personal and collective wellbeing, there’s a real danger that we’re hurtling towards a future that no longer takes people or our relationships with brands into account.

Take self-driving cars as an example. In a driverless world, we could become passive and disengaged, reducing car brands to mere tools for mobility. Where would this leave car advertising and would autonomous cars significantly improve our lives? Possibly for the elderly and disabled but what about for those of us who enjoy the brand association of a marque, plus the freedom and enjoyment of being behind the wheel?

If the singularity is closer than we think, we need greater debate and transparency about what’s really going on

Are we really developing intelligent driverless vehicles to make our roads safer and less congested, or is it to pave the way for greater in-car connectivity so we can travel around inside entertainment hubs on wheels, without the distraction of having to keep our eyes on the road, immersed in branded worlds?

If we admit that it’s a combination of both these future realities, then how do we reconcile branded infotainment with the loss of lorry-driver jobs, the ethical algorithms needed for driverless decision-making and the security issues that car-to-car communication will present? Only recently, Fiat Chrysler had to recall 1.4 million cars after the Internet-connected entertainment and navigation system of a Jeep Cherokee was hacked.

Wouldn’t we be better off focusing AI and machine learning progression on improving areas of collective society that really need it, such as medicine and science? AI is already at work in hospitals helping physicians understand which patients are at highest risk for complications, and AI algorithms are helping to find important grains in massive data sand-dunes.

Need for a proper debate

The answers to all these questions around the future of AI need proper debate. Media and brands need to have their say alongside the technology, scientific and ethical communities.

Without factoring in meaningful connections to its future progress, AI runs the risk of, at best seeing us withdraw from physical experiences and at worst, causing society to destabilise due to synthetic robots taking over roles that should be filled by humans.

If the singularity is closer than we think, we need greater debate and transparency about what’s really going on, who is leading the charge and how it will effect our experiences as consumers in the future.

What started with spellcheck and auto correct, has the potential to auto-correct our human actions. In the case of driverless cars, it may save lives and eradicate mistakes behind the wheel but in other areas of our lives, it’s our mistakes that allow us to grow and evolve.

If AI one day takes away our freedom to make mistakes, we’ll loose the capacity to learn and improve. That’s what makes us who we are. Without it, we’ll all become synthetic humans, eating silicon sushi, programming our perfect lives via the chip in our wrists and taking orders from the robots who have taken over our jobs and household chores. Orwell would turn in his grave.

Mike Fletcher


1 Comment

Leave a Reply