News & Views

Opinion / From Poster to PA: How AI Will Transform Our High Streets

by Contagious Contributor
Rosh Singh, digital innovation director at Kinetic Active, believes that digital out of home will evolve from a broadcast medium to bring us personal, real time updates

The futurists of the 70s and 80s have screwed us. Where are the real hover boards, the flying cars and the orb-like floating cities in the sky?

While technology hasn’t necessarily proliferated at the speed at which Back to the Future and The Jetsons led us to believe, retrofuturism sometimes muddies how amazing the present day is. As Amara’s Law states, we tend to overestimate the effect of tech in the short run and underestimate it in the long run – but extraordinary technologies are used by many of us on a day-to-day basis.

Ok Google, Hi Siri, Hey Cortana. Five years ago it would have been a given that talking to our mobile phone meant a human was on the other end. While technology often makes people feel uncomfortable, we’re becoming more accepting of machines like virtual personal assistants (VPAs) than we think.

What we are experiencing is a new machine revolution, and one that we are all party to. What’s next is how this handheld technology can be projected into the world around us. We are already beginning to expect our devices to be smart, anticipate our every need and adapt to our lifestyles – and this will soon be as true of public devices as our personal devices.

Digital out-of-home (DOOH) screens are set to become public digital assistants, flexing, changing and adapting to the people around them, sending useful and valuable nudges as they go about their lives.

As Internet of Things (IoT) standardisation ushers in an anonymised and cloud-based data framework, digital signage could start to actually understand us and help us about our days. This is already happening to a degree, as digital screens can be used to display useful information in context.

In the same way that Waze uses crowd-sourced anonymised data to give us route suggestions and Taxi Trails in Stockholm uses taxi journey data to guide tourists to local hotspots, DOOH will in the future be used to serve real-time and relevant information to us as we travel through our cities, effectively turning screens into an advert/VPA hybrid. In the future, knowing you are heading out shopping, for instance, the screens on your route would serve you intuitive nudges to remind you of vital items missing from your connected fridge or your cupboards, and share information like in-store discounts, details on busiest shop times or new stockists.

Integration with apps like Citymapper will share your route options via iBeacons, giving you helpful and non-intrusive guidance along your way via DOOH screens. This future is not as far away as it may seem. Kinetic and Exterion have partnered to test how beacons can be used in OOH with the eventuality of understanding who is in front of a screen in real-time and tailoring digital copy accordingly based on in-app activity.

The machine revolution will have a big impact on the labour market, increasingly replacing white collar jobs previously thought of to be out of reach of machines. While mechanised production will see high dexterity factory jobs disappear through the arrival of robotic arms with the same control as a human hand, deep learning is teaching machines how to think using the same synaptic methods as humans.

How this impacts the advertising industry remains to be seen, but with early trials in AI and artwork creation in OOH already underway, a future where the role of the creative is replaced by machines doesn’t seem too far away. First creative, then planning, then client services will gradually be replaced by machines as they become more human-like in both their thinking and form. We only have to look to McCann Japan’s AI creative director (above) to see the genesis of this trend. AI-CD β is coded with historical data of what works, what doesn’t and also what is more likely to win an award, and can analyse commercials and give feedback accordingly.

Emotive and predictive technologies like Siri represent a relative surface scratch in the possibility of AI, but one that we take for granted. It may be time to take a step back and admire the technologies adding untold value to our lives and those that could soon be transforming our day-to-day worlds.