News & Views

Cannes Lions / Seminar Debrief – Sentience: The Coming AI Revolution 

by Emily Hare

‘Artificial intelligence is only around 15 years away and will affect everything,’ said Mike Cooper, PHD’s worldwide CEO, at the agency’s Cannes Lions session on Tuesday. More than $27bn has been invested in AI to date, according to artificial intelligence company Quid. This amount will only continue to rise as uptake increases, thanks to the increasing sophistication of algorithms and speed of computers. Companies are investing in talent, software and hardware, such as IBM’s Watson, which means, according to Cooper, that ‘AI is not just another piece of technology, it’s the commencement of a truly new epoch.’

The first iteration of AI that is likely to radically recognise marketing is virtual personal assistants. Imagine a souped-up Siri, that, when you miss your return flight from Cannes, will book another, update all your hotel and taxi bookings, rearrange the appointments that you’ll miss and apologise to your partner. Cooper said this effectively changes purchase decisions ‘from a frontal cortex decision-making process to an algorithmic one’.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, spoke of both the exciting potential and the worrying implications of various AI applications. For instance, Google-owned AI firm DeepMind's tech is able to observe games like Pong and Pacman and then quickly learn to play the games for itself. The difference between AI software learning to play a computer and learning to fly military drones is relatively small in terms of the technology, but huge in terms of the ethical implications. Similarly, driverless cars could pick up the physics of driving relatively quickly, but developers have found it much harder to get them to recognise a policeman stepping in front of the vehicle and demanding they come to a stop. However, the potential accidents that can be prevented by this technology and lives that should be saved will be incredible. 

Berners-Lee also touched on the importance of data and how vital it is for businesses and governments to be open in terms of the information that they make available. He believes that sharing data should now be as important to companies as establishing a website was 20 or 25 years ago. ‘In general, to be part of the business world, you need to put data out there,’ Berners-Lee said.

Personal data will also play an increasingly important role in our lives, particularly as different data sets are analysed by our personal assistants. Berners-Lee explained: ‘I feel that my data to me is much more valuable than my data to you. You can find out my health, data, fitness, eating habits, I’m a point in some data set. But for me, they’re about how long I live, that’s really really important to me.’

Despite the potential benefits that AI could bring to our day to day lives, Berners-Lee reminded the audience to question what happens when the technology becomes powerful, and think about whose best interests it will have in mind. ‘You don’t have to look at advertising because you have this intelligent thing which is sifting through all the information about the products, in terms of technology,’ he said.However, Berners-Lee warned of the implications of a scenario where a virtual assistant is operated by Google, Facebook or Apple, and provides personalised recommendations. ‘Will Siri herself have a bank account and try to make money out of this?’ Berners-Lee asked. AI could potentially develop increasingly 'human' traits. However, ‘the red line is if robots are given the same legal rights as human beings,’ he concluded. ‘If that happens, it’s time to put the breaks on.’