‘AI-driven marketing threatens consumer choice’

Challenging those behind the disaster that was (the original) Jurassic Park, mathematician Dr Ian Malcolm (famously played by the laconic Jeff Goldblum) alleged that “scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

This could equally be applied to many technological advances in the modern age. The need to stay one step ahead of the competition has seen an exponential rise in the number of products available, the intelligence of those products and how we have welcomed and weaved these into our personal lives to the point where they are indispensable.

Dr Malcom’s quote was used in a Debating Group meeting in the House of Commons where the following motion was discussed: ‘AI-driven marketing threatens consumer choice’.

Rob Sellers, Manging Director of Grey Shopper, argued that whilst our lives become increasingly reliant on AI, there has been little or no consideration as to how this will affect human behaviour which thrives on making good choices and drives progress.

He was openly pessimistic; those opposing the motion – Dr Windsor Holden, Head of Forecasting at Juniper Research and Alasdair Todd, Parliamentary Researcher – pointed to the fact that today AI is already able to help with mundane matters; ordering bin bags when they’ve run out and assisting us to navigate through the myriad of choice when it comes to online shopping (Amazon alone has 562m products for sale!).

Sellers envisages the ever increasing creeping of AI into our lives impacting what we eat, wear and choose as entertainment and argues this is detrimental to humans as a species; our brains, he says, are already adequately programmed to make these choices.

His fellow debater, Marc Curtis, Ideation Manager at Lyreco Group and also founder of Living Unplugged, shares these concerns by arguing that exercising choice is the only real power humans have – “if we outsource choice, we lose what it means to be human”.

He accepts we have benefitted from relinquishing some of this at the hands of AI but warns of taking this further and points to social media bubbles and recent political disruption as examples of the damaging nature of rapidly embracing an ever-changing technological landscape. The fear is we don’t realise this is happening now and we largely associate words like “bespoke” and “personalised” as being positive when in reality they equate to a limiting of our choices.

Dr Holden and Todd are far more positive; more data equates to better choices and, for example, will assist start-ups in knowing where to open businesses, who they should target to survive (and who to ignore) which will lower marketing spend and increase customer loyalty. Todd argues the only damage to humans that AI will inflict is to our pride and this is something we need not fear; we can set the direction of where AI is heading and we control where the lines are drawn. After all, we have always been targeted with advertising and ultimately, you can take a dinosaur to water…

It’s an argument most of those in the room agree with. After a number of interesting questions, including a real life horror story of AI-recommended inferior dog poo bags, the vote finished 35 to 19 against the motion: AI-driven marketing does not threaten consumer choice. What we can be sure of is that AI will continue to change life as we know it. Should we fear that? As Dr Ian Malcolm might say, “life finds a way”.

Thanks to the Debating Group and the Institute for Promotional Marketing for their work organising such an interesting evening.

The Debating Group has been holding debates in the House of Commons since 1975 and brings public relations practitioners, marketers, politicians, journalists and the public together to discuss contentious political issues which surround marketing. As a supporting member of the Group, CIPR members can claim 5 CPD points by attending debates.

Image courtesy of pixabay

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