I have been thinking about artificial intelligence (AI) and the impact it has on consumerism.
AI is used to track your buying habits and predetermine your buying needs. It is also the robotics that clean fields or make cars, do complex surgery or make a digital diagnosis. It is the smart fridge that knows what to tell you to buy or the smart watch tracking your health.
And it is everywhere.
There is no doubt that AI has a profound effect on consumer spending. One visit to online shopping and you are repeatedly alerted, invited or cornered with your upcoming needs in pop-ups or ads. Even something as simple as leaving your location on in your phone and driving past a real estate sign may alert that company to send the listing to your number — uninvited. Clothing is recommended in your size and favourite colour to encourage you. Indeed many companies now put a package together based on your previous buying habits and pitch it to you before you knew you wanted it.
When it comes to groceries, AI has been used for a long time.
All your purchases are recorded and if you happen to have a rewards card with a store, they can match the online advertising to your email address or cellphone according to your last purchases. If you tend to buy green tomatoes, there will be some sort of media alert for you every time green tomatoes are featured. It may include all the things that go well with green tomatoes or a list of other items that just happen to be your favourites.
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Each time one shops online and agrees to terms and conditions, we release all of our private information and that is tied to other streams which are tracking you. Ever wonder how Facebook knows which retailers to pop up in your feed or how a blue dress or snazzy coveralls just your size are on sale at three different outlets at once? This information is mined and put into your profile.
With the current events of the world there has been a need and a rush to make a shift into more online purchases and banking. The intersections of all of these purchases make up your profile which will be used in the future to drive marketing specific to you.
One day in February I was caring for two children, one a 10-year-old girl. We were talking about the future and she very frankly said: “We will all be replaced by robotics.”
I was stunned at the severity of the comment and as I always like to think of the possible, I countered with this question: “What is your role in the future then?”
To this she replied, “My role is to think harder and smarter and to be more intelligent than the robot replacing me.”
An interesting perspective.
Shortly after, an adult student asked me about my position on artificial intelligence from a leadership perspective. I surmised that it required a lot of respectful investigation because it was real. And AI has recently led me to think about how COVID-19 has spearheaded rapid change in that space and how this will indeed be a foundation for marketing through the rest of the year.
Be assured that toilet paper ads will become creative and tied to other products ‘of necessity’ and that robotics may replace those working in laboratories. It may be faster to take the talent of an already educated brain and code that into a machine than it is to educate thousands of specialized workers.
If you think this column is about mad science and what you may consider the dark side of technology, it is not.
It is possible to have robotic hands handling contaminated samples rather than humans and that saves lives. And an algorithm of consumer buying patterns may be quite sobering and life altering. Most certainly it is a lens to human behaviour.
As we face the real issue — which is the health and well-being of all persons — we must also consider the importance of functioning food systems and of the availability of food. If an algorithm is reflective of alternate buys between toilet paper and beer, we may have a challenge in the days ahead. That particular buying pattern is shaping the advertising and production of tomorrow to all people, including the youth who are not of drinking age.
If we as a society wish for the well-being of ourselves and our communities based on healthy, nutritious and available food, then that is what we need to buy. Why? Because AI is determining what to put on the shelves in the future, how much of it to have available and at what cost. This will be based on the newest and largest database in history — the one of 2020.
Our ability to not only survive but thrive is tied to our habits and to our ability to out-think the forces that challenge us. This we can do.