It’s Thursday morning; I arrive at the office and ask Alexa to turn on the radio.
“Alexa. BBC radio 6.”
I’m aware this makes me sound like a rude and demanding colleague who was just deservedly sworn at. In my defense, Alexa isn’t a person, she’s an internet-connected artificial intelligence speaker, and she simply hadn’t registered my command.
It’s no longer in debate: in many professions and industries, jobs and tasks previously completed by people are now being performed by artificial intelligence systems. While this might seem inevitable in certain fields, one industry which has always been quietly confident of its security in this regard has been content marketing.
In an industry rooted heavily in intrinsically human qualities – creativity, empathy and the ability to know an audience – it’s understandable that the general position is that A.I systems probably couldn’t replace writers in any real capacity.
If this is your thinking, it might shock you to discover that you’ve quite possibly already read content online which has been written by an A.I program. While this technology isn’t yet able to replicate an authentic piece of writing by a human, it’s not as far off as you might assume.
While many have brushed this issue off as sci-fi hogwash, the basic pillars of content creation can give us some insight into the pressing question: could artificial intelligence actually replace content marketers?
The logical place to start would be to establish which aspects of content marketing are the most ‘human’. First and arguably foremost is creativity. This is often where the buck stops with an argument debating the potential of artificial intelligence to replace human effort. Some would say that a computer program or system could never exhibit true creativity; plain and simple, thank you very much.
Alarmingly, this might not be as clear-cut as most content marketers would likely hope. Advanced computer-based systems and tools already exist which are capable of producing astonishingly ‘creative’ results.
Deep neural networks, computer systems which are designed to replicate the basic synaptic structure of the human brain, are an example of this. Advanced systems like these have already managed to create pieces of music, and ING’s Next Rembrandt project used A.I technology to faithfully generate an eerily accurate, entirely new painting in the style of the master artist.
Creativity has always been one of the most enigmatic aspects of the human mind, but if computer systems are able to ‘decode’ artwork in this way, and use this information to create entirely new content, it might no longer be a uniquely human quality at all.
Even if the definition of creativity is rooted firmly in what is novel or unique, the basic premise of using established knowledge to inform the creation of new material is something that A.I systems are already pretty good at.
Simply put, it might not even matter if a computer is truly ‘creative’. An A.I system could feasibly have enough data and information on how content is created to generate writing that’s indistinguishable from that of talented marketers. Gulp.
I like Siri, but it just doesn’t…get me, y’know?
So possibly, in the near future, we could have computerised musicians, artists, or poets. An A.I might get to a stage where you could feasibly claim it was creative. Fine.
But there is more to content marketing than just creativity. A great writer doesn’t just craft engaging and effective pieces of writing, they do so with a specific audience in mind. Their writing has a purpose, which comes from a deep understanding of what it is people want and need, and how to provide it to them.
Could a computer program really know how to find out what people want, pick a target audience and then craft content around them? Again, the answer: quite possibly.
A.I marketing is already taking place. When we log into Amazon, Facebook, or Netflix, we’re bombarded with suggestions for products and services. Save a few renegade adverts, these are mostly based around what we’ve been searching for and showing an interest in online. It’s all very 1984.
The saving grace for content marketers currently is that these algorithms don’t replace good old-fashioned common sense. The fact that someone searched for something online doesn’t necessarily mean they want to buy that thing, or want to discover similar products.
At this stage, these A.I programs spot trends, but aren’t great at identifying or understanding why these trends are taking place. They receive information, and they use that information to provide other information. Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t always end well either (take a look at the story of ‘Tay’ – Microsoft’s tweetbot that became accidentally racist.)
Curtains for Content Marketers?
Looking at how far A.I. has come in recent years, and how quickly, it would be naive to suggest that there will never be an A.I program that can do the job of a content marketer.
Identifying audiences, defining content purposes, creating quality and appropriate content, and assessing results to inform future projects. These are all things that a computer system will most likely be able to do in the future.
But for all you despondent content marketers out there, don’t panic just yet. We’re still a long way off any computer being able to do these things in correlation with one another. The sheer complexity of a good content marketing strategy means that while current-gen tech is smart, it’s not the well-oiled machine it needs to be.
For now, content marketing isn’t going anywhere. A.I.s are clever, and are getting smarter, but at this point they’re limited. They’re built by people, and they only work in the way we tell them to. Computer systems don’t ever have a creative ‘spark’, or a moment of brilliance; there aren’t specific programs that are more talented.
We simply can’t know how things will develop, but if at some point Alexa chirps up with a suggestion about how I might approach some writing, I’ll let you know. Unless, of course… I AM Alexa (Cue Twilight Zone music).