This time last year the BBC asked the question ‘How likely was a robot to take your job?’

The study concluded that marketing was one of the least likely professions to be automated.

And the market research interviewer was one of the most likely

So, 12 months on, we hope you haven’t been replaced by an R2 unit or worse, a robot vacuum cleaner?

But even if you haven’t, it’s likely that technology is dramatically reshaping how you work and will continue to do so.

What are the limits of this change and where will it potentially stop….?

It’s 1863. 4 years after Charles Darwin published Evolution of the Species, and a little known New Zealander named Samuel Butler writes an article called Darwin among the Machines. In it, for the first time, he raises the possibility that machines may take on a life of their own.

the machines are gaining ground upon us; day by day we are becoming more subservient to them …. The upshot is simply a question of time, but that the time will come when the machines will hold the real supremacy over the world and its inhabitants is what no person of a truly philosophic mind can for a moment question.

150 years later and artificial intelligence and the relationship between man and machine has been the subject of more books, movies and video games than you can shake a stick at.

And now, finally, it’s no longer fiction.

AI is such big news that not only are Google investing heavily in it but McCann Japan have recently created their first AI creative director.

“The AI has been built to respond to a product or message with the optimal commercial direction, based off historical data. The AI has also been built to then learn from the results of the campaigns its directed, in theory creating an increasingly more effective AI creative director” (The Drum March 2016).

And It’s not just Google and McCann taking an interest but so is Kellogg School of Management and  Yuval Noah Harari who has dedicated an entire book to a new era of humanity he calls Dataism.

In his view:

“the train of progress is pulling out of the station – and this will probably be the last train to ever leave the station called Homo sapiens. Those who miss the train will never get a second chance”

Guardian 28/8/16

Harari’s view is extreme, that machines and algorithms will take over the world. The Kellogg’s view is a more moderate assessment of the benefits of man and machine working together.

I’m in their camp. There is no doubt we are on the cusp of a fascinating future. That data and our ability to manipulate it to respond and predict is about to accelerate at a pace we’ve only ever seen in science fiction movies.

It’s a view shared by Microsoft who talk about humans + machines rather than humans vs machines.

It’s an exciting future. For many businesses it unlocks the ability to interact with customers in ways we’ve only imagined. Many of our clients are moving towards this future, but slowly. For most, it’s still a time of aggregation and mining data not using it to predict, well not yet anyway.

But the reason I’m in the Kellogg camp is because as brilliant as algorithms are at sifting, sorting, creating patterns. They can’t yet write themselves.

Which is where we come in as marketers and insight people. With our ability to set hypothesise and shape algorithms to search for the answer. We still need the intuitive and sentience of humans to do the part of the process that requires creativity, intuitive connections and logic leaps. At least for the foreseeable future.

As marketers we stand on the cusp of an exciting new order, one which allows us to unlock knowledge like never before. But it doesn’t replace thinking, inspiration and creativity. If anything, it amplifies the need to be smart about the questions we are asking and to then find smart ways to mine the data to get to those answers.

We used to need to be smart about understanding people. We now need to be smart about understanding technology, in order to understand people.

We need to be clear on how new technologies give us better insight. How do they help us see people in a deeper, richer, instant or connected way? We need to know the strengths of these approaches, and their shortcomings.

We need to use our abilities to forge research programmes that make the most of these incredible new resources.

The future may be a level of high-tech-ness we are only starting to understand, but the now is a true marriage of man and machine.