Category Archives: artificial reality

Focus Features promotes ‘Insidious’ with an AI bot. Should this scare you?

Creator and Robot SXSW

Japanese roboticist Hiroshi Ishiguro unveils an android copy of himself at SXSW. Will marketing bots based on artificial intelligence help advertisers?

We love the idea of boosting a horror movie with an AI chatbot. Marketers looking to scale communications are watching Focus Features’ clever experiment in awe. Marketing bots are coming fast. But before we explain, let’s catch up on AI advances.

It’s been a whirlwind year so far for artificial intelligence. At SXSW Interactive in Austin this March, Japanese scientist Hiroshi Ishiguro presented an android that looked exactly like himself, capable of carrying on intelligent conversations in either English or Japanese thanks to Siri-like database matching, linguistic software and voice recognition. Days later, AlphaGo, an AI software developed by Google DeepMind, beat South Korean champion Lee Sedol at Go, a game multiple times more complicated than chess. And weeks later, Microsoft launched the silly Twitter bot Tay on the world, trying to demonstrate its AI could learn conversations by tweeting back and forth with users. Tay flamed out when online trolls taught it to say racist, violent things, forcing Microsoft to abort its Twitter experiment … but Tay did learn a human personality, albeit a mean one, quickly.

Artificial intelligence is no longer science fiction. It’s here to stay.

In marketing, AI algorithms and “bots” in recent years have earned a bad name, typically attributed to “black box” digital media buying systems that may opaquely distort ad campaigns with bad impressions, or bots that pretend to be human but are really designed to jack up clicks for inflating results. The media buyers who run today’s programmatic systems often invest a sizable portion of their time in monitoring digital ad campaigns for quality control—a war against bots, if you will. But now, some bots may be bringing benefits to marketing.

When marketing bots help promote a horror film

MIT Technology Review reports that some new mobile services such as Kik and Telegram have created “bot shops,” where AI virtual users provide everything from simple horoscopes (just fun) to helpful service and personal conversation. Focus Features used this AI-type system in Kik to promote the new film “Insidious: Chapter 3,” in a brilliant virtual conversation. In the movie, a girl named Quinn is stuck in bed, and needs to converse with the outside world. The Kik bot allowed you to do just that … with your personal conversation growing more and more intense.

Kik Insidious

 

Yikes. And well done. Just scanning those messages makes us feel like we’re inside the actual movie.

Marketers are watching this because one-on-one conversation agents could unlock value, in everything from explaining products to stamping out customer complaints. In call centers, human labor accounts for up to 85% of costs, while customers grow irate if hold times exceed a few minutes. Deploying bots in customer service could save companies millions while helping customers gain faster answers, in turn reducing customer churn.

When AI systems work well, they not only duplicate human intelligent conversation but do so at scale. Imagine a world where there was no more “on hold” time when you call a call center, and a friendly, Siri-type intelligence immediately took your complaint or order.

But can AI manage the real complexities of life?

But as the Tay debacle showed, AIs are still rough simulacrums at best, and prone to error, or worse, offense. The reason it took 20 years between IBM’s supercomputer Deep Blue beating Garry Kasparov in chess and AlphaGo whipping Sedol at Go this spring is chess, on average, has only 35 possible legal options per player move, while Go is far more complex, with approximately 250 game options to consider per player turn. AI can finally keep up with just 250 scenarios on a simple board. Real life has millions of possible turns in every human move. While marketers may rush soon to deploy AI bots to try to influence or serve customers more easily, they’ll need to tread carefully.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told a conference of developers this spring, “We want to take the power of human language and apply it more pervasively to all of the computing interface and the computing interactions.” But to paraphrase Microsoft’s twitter AI-bot Tay, as she went off the deep end about Hillary Clinton, beware of “a lizard person hell-bent on destroying America.”

Viewing what isn’t there


Dystopia is nothing new in science fiction, but Gary Shteyngart tried a unique tact in his exceptional novel “Super Sad True Love Story” — a future where America is waning, and its inhabitants want to use technology to be young forever. Shteyngart simply plays forward the iPhone.

The brilliant media core of Shteyngart’s tale is something called the äppärät — a pebble-sized device everyone wears on pendants which cascades a Facebook/Twitter-like stream of social data in the air around them, combining the fakery of who we want to be vs. the grit of who we really are. In this forthcoming future, you can walk into a bar, tap your äppärät and see everyone else’s income, savings, credit scores, personal history and, um, f***ability rankings.

The novel’s protagonist Lenny discovers the latest äppärät updates one night out with his friends:

Streams of data were now fighting for time and space around us. The pretty girl I had just FACed was projecting my MALE HOTNESS as 120 out of 800, PERSONALITY 450, and something called SUSTAINABILITY at 630…

Vishnu worked my äppärät until some RANKINGS came up. He helped me navigate the data. “Out of the seven males in the Community,” he said, gesturing around the bar, “Noah’s the third hottest, I’m the fourth hottest, and Lenny’s the seventh.”

“You mean I’m the ugliest guy here?” I ran my fingers through the remnants of my hair.

“But you’ve got a decent personality,” Vishnu comforted me.

So today Engadget reports that Vuzix is producing augmented reality glasses that will track your visual location with motion sensors and overlay 3D representations of, well, whatever app-makers dream up. For $5,000 — a price that will fall rapidly, just as digital cameras and flat-screen TVs have done in the past — you could conceivably walk into a bar, tap your glasses and see a data overlay of everyone’s sexual aptitude or financial scores. Art has long forecast reality; Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, William Gibson’s Neuromancer, James Cameron’s Terminator, Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, and most recently Wall-E’s fat humans on spaceships all pointed to engineering creations overwhelming our natural bodies and mental inputs. Eventually data we want to see may eclipse the blurry images of what exists. Lenny, here’s looking at you.

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.