The State of AI: It Needs the Human Touch

Advertising Week kicked off this morning – and, yes, we’re still getting used to its new location in Lincoln Square.  We almost auto-piloted our way to Times Square. But, alas, we made it to the movie theater…


To start things off, we headed to a panel on The State of AItried to get as many buzzwords in as possible , right off the bat.

The panel had a pretty stellar lineup, consisting of:

  • Jacob Grabczewski Head of Product, Copilot, Xaxis
  • Jocelyn Lee Head of AI Heat
  • Nate Rackiewicz Chairman and Co-Founder METEOR NOW
  • Nishat Mehta President, IRI Media Center of Excellence IRI Worldwide
  • Paul Longo Head of Agency Development Microsoft Advertising

The session began with a temperature check of the current state of AI.  One thing came through with all of the panelists: there is a ton of hype around AI right now.  That said, Nate stressed the importance of taking the time to truly understand whether or not a company has an AI capability, or if they are just dressing up automation.  Another popular response was about how AI is very much still in its infancy. In fact, Nishat compared AI’s trajectory as similar to that of his young kids noting that, “watching their brains develop is analogous to the way AI has been developing over the past four or five years.”  

As the panelists continued to discuss the current state of AI, one incredibly relevant and poignant theme came to light:

AI needs empathy and a human element.

Nishat kicked this point off by sharing the insight that, “AI depends as much on the programming as it does on the way that we interact with that.”  This, of course, has incredible implications.  

A recent anecdote, shared by Jocelyn, was around something we’ve all heard about, but possibly hadn’t considered AI’s involvement with: The Forbes Top 100 Innovators in Business List Scandal.  If you haven’t heard about it, we’ll refresh your memory. Forbes announced their annual top 100 innovators list, one of the many lists they announce each year, and released a final product that consisted of 99 men and just one woman.  (Yes, you read that right and no, we can’t say we’re super surprised).  Any way, the way Forbes came up with this list was through an algorithm.  You may also not be surprised to learn that this algorithm was created by two men.  Of course, these men did bring in two consultants, but they were, of course, also men.

So, what does this mean? We need to be adding a diverse, human ‘checks and balances’ element.  Right now, AI is in a place where we need human beings to be the brains behind it, but we also need them to be the guardrails behind it.  It is essential that there is a step at the end of every outcome where we look at the result and see if it does what we were trying to achieve.

Before the panel ended, the moderator took the panelists  through two quick speed rounds. The first one explored AI for good – something that, at Isobar, we’re incredibly passionate about.  Here’s a quick look at what everyone is excited about:

  • Paul: Currently exciting about “Seeing AI” – a Microsoft initiative that is helping people with vision impairment to do things like read menus and recognize objects on their daily walks, for instance.
  • Jacob: Energy.  All of these systems we’re building and the cloud, etc., those all take a lot of energy.  He recently heard about a team that tapped AI to help regulate this power. This resulted in a 30% savings on energy. The AI was able to take millions of decisions that a human could not keep up with to make a major impact.
    • Sidebar: in the Q&A portion of the panel, we started talking about philosophical thinking as it relates to AI and the bigger questions that need to be considered.  For instance, what do we do with this extra 30% of energy?
  • Nate: Advancements in sensors and brain mapping.  Right now, there are studies where we can see people watching TV and find out what resonates and what doesn’t, which has huge implications for the advertising industry when we think about the messages brands are trying to disseminate.  

Next up, a one year fast forward.  What will we be talking about at Advertising Week 2020?

  • Jacob: There will be an actual solution for calendars, meetings and something that schedules appointments – that’s the lofty goal.
  • Jocelyn:  First up, more diversity on stage. As she put it, “there has to be more than one woman that can speak about AI.”  But also, Climate Change. As we sit here, right across town, the brightest minds are coming together to discuss the issue our world is facing.  Jocelyn would love to see AI leveraged to lessen some of the blow of what has been done.
  • Nishat: AI needs to get better at handling spontaneity and he hopes next year we’ll be starting to see that.  Making the same decisions over and over again is going to get boring and we’re going to start seeing mistakes if something isn’t done.
  • Nate: Pricing.  Next year we’ll be discussing regulators on pricing models.

So, safe to stay Advertising Week kicked off with all of the industry buzz we always hope for.  Stay tuned throughout the week for more takeaways from the team on the ground!