Get used to the cyborg era. It’s already here. Artificial intelligence and augmented reality, among other “godlike” technology, is making it easier and faster for us measly humans not only to achieve feats of strength but also to reach and live with our decisions. And, allegedly, we’re already making better decisions because of it. Or are we?
According to Christopher Mims at The Wall Street Journal, this is how the future is going to go down:
It’s 2027, and you’re walking down the street, confident you’ll arrive at your destination even though you don’t know where it is. You may not even remember why your device is telling you to go there.
There’s a voice in your ear giving you turn-by-turn directions and, in between, prepping you for this meeting. Oh, right, you’re supposed to be interviewing a dog whisperer for your pet-psychiatry business. You arrive at the coffee shop, look around quizzically, and a woman you don’t recognize approaches. A display only you can see highlights her face and prints her name next to it in crisp block lettering, Terminator-style. Afterward, you’ll get an automatically generated transcript of everything the two of you said.
Easy-peasy, right? AI and other tech programs have made us “smarter,” and even more socially savvy. Heck, with all that help, we’ve just made more space in our heads to concentrate on what really matters — like what’s for dinner. We have made time to condition on top of shampooing. Things are great.
The ability of large-scale companies like Amazon and Facebook, which are gobbling up and repurposing all kinds of technology companies that produce smart wearables, learning programs, sensory gadgets, and all the rest, in order to anticipate what consumers want and need at the moment they want and need it, means we have effectively turned over our decision-making processes. These companies are going to do the thinking for us — and make us feel good about “our” decisions.
Mims describes the new decision-making processes at work.
Apple is busy putting ever more powerful microprocessors, and more wireless radios, in every one of its devices. Siri is getting smarter and popping up in more places. Meanwhile Apple is going deep on augmented reality, giving developers the ability to create apps in which our physical world is filled with everything from Pokémon to whatever IKEA furniture we want to try in our living rooms. All these technologies—interfacing with our smart homes, smart cars, even smart cities—will constitute not just a new way to interact with computers but a new way of life. And of course, worrisome levels of privacy invasion. …
With our every action mapped to every outdoor and indoor space we inhabit—combined with the predictive power of AI and distributed across a suite of devices for which Siri has become the default interface — the result could be a life directed by our gadgets, a sort of “Choose Your Own Adventure” for our daily routines.
Are we OK with that? It would seem we are. Facebook and Google constantly ask us if the information they know about us is correct. When we say yes, it learns about us. When we say no, it tweaks its own systems to do better the next time. When we don’t volunteer an answer, we keep some illusion of privacy, but not much. Our GPS locator has tracked us whether we want to acknowledge it (and write a review) or not. We’re coaching the machines to anticipate our next move.
If you’re the kind of person who likes to help out friends and families, or even the stranger in the street, the cyborg era could make it easier to humble brag. We are now being told about upcoming birthdays and getting suggested recommendations on gifts to buy. “Oh my goodness, you remembered!” Yeah, right.
For marketers, the cyborg era could make successful programming that much more competitive — and even more fun.
Take my personal example as a tech-era consumer in the AI era. Just glancing at the waterfront outside my office means I’ll be bombarded with offers (showing up in my contact lenses) telling me about used paddle boards for sale or when the ferry comes around again, or riverfront restaurant lunch specials. I will be reminded to pay my water and sewer bill and I will be set up to scan and pay the bill just by moving my eyes.
Doesn’t seem far-fetched, does it? With all these new capabilities, thanks to the giants deep-diving into this realm, this could actually be a dream come true for marketers who are going to have a predictive plate of options at the ready for the moment consumers look up from their haze. Let’s face it, that’s already happening, but we’re not clairvoyant yet. The new era takes us that much closer.
But does all this choice actually help the consumer, or does it lead to decision fatigue, and the desire to let someone else take charge? When the decision-making process overwhelms, it changes motivation. And when motives change, people become less predictable.
A corollary concern is this: if consumers are not really engaged because much of the thinking is being done for us, or to put it another way, too many options are being thrown at us, and we’re leaving it up to the computers to sort out, then we lose the consideration and evaluation techniques that help us reach and live with and explain our decisions. In other words, we are no longer able to communicate the “why” of our choices.
The “why” is what makes humans compelling. Reducing individuals down to an integrated web of connections is not so very revolutionary — society has always worked that way — but providing for every whim at a moment’s notice does remove some of the mystery and … humanity … in our decisions. Bombarding people with suggestions every moment of the day sure sounds like a reason to “tune out.”
Marketing, like relationships, comes down to helping people and building trust and satisfaction. The changes in how consumers make decisions will force marketers to rethink what motivates people. Will we always be responding to a desire to be met or a problem to be solved? If not, how do we persuade consumers in a compelling way?
Hopefully, consumers won’t just bat marketers away with a blink of an eye, nor be induced into seizures from being targeted every moment of every day. But let us resolve that in the future, we make sure we understand why people do the things they do.