By Stephen Baglione Ph.D. Professor of Marketing and Quantitative Methods
Henry Ford’s factories teemed with employees, and he paid them $5 to improve productivity and hope they would become customers. Volvo’s new $500 million 2.3 million-square-foot factory in South Carolina will build up to 60,000 cars with less than 2,000 workers. Between 2000 and 2010, the U.S. lost 5.56 million manufacturing jobs. Eighty-five percent of those losses are attributable to automation (13% from trade). U.S. manufacturing output has increased over the last 35 years; however, employment has almost halved. Economists are fearful that machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) will further erode American employment.
Having worked in a factory to pay for college, I would be happy to see those positions eradicated. They were mind-numbing and boring, but they paid well. Many summer college students quit school to work there. Regardless of my feelings, they paid for middle-class families to send their children to college and employ me to teach them.
When machines are given data, lots of data, and use it to learn, that is ML. Sometimes people are paid to review a machine’s choices and tell them when they are wrong, and as a result, many humans may be grooming their electronic replacements. AI is when machines complete tasks we would deem smart. AI is invading professional careers. The McKinsey Global Institute believes half of all tasks will be automated, but only 5% of jobs eliminated.
Will marketing jobs disappear? Yes and no. The website site Will Robots Take my Job says that there is only a 1% chance that they will replace marketing managers; 1% for sales managers; and 8% for graphic designers. Marketing research analysis did not fare well (61% replaced), nor did advertising salespeople at 54%.
Successful marketers of the future will need to be self-learners, creative, problem identifiers, and synthesizers of data for deployment. The upside of AI and ML taking some current marketing jobs is that more time will be made available for strategic versus tactical thinking, and building deeper more meaningful personal relationships. It could also undertake an analysis of repetitive tasks using pre-determined rules to free marketing executives for complex and creative decisions.
Consumers will undertake the same process leaving more personal interaction available from both parties. Why spend hours searching for the best deals when your AI bot can choose everything based on your history and pre-determined goals? The bot will have been learning about us from birth, so the questions becomes, “How will marketers promote to these bots?” Bots are already being used for content curation on Facebook and other online platforms, creating customized content based on digital behavior. Amazon uses recommendation based bots to upsell products based on consumers’ interests.
The Terminator movies show a dystopia where machines try to replace mankind. Many are predicting AI and ML are the precursors of that, and that human employment will indeed be “terminated.” Robots, AI and ML will displace many human workers, but in the data-driven marketing world, they can become valuable workmates by helping us turn information into actionable insights.