In 1970, a robotics professor from the University of Tokyo named Masahiro Mori introduced a landmark concept called “The Uncanny Valley.” In its most basic terms, it stated that people’s affinity for a robot that looked human would be generally positive, but only up to a point.
As the robot becomes indistinguishable from its human counterpart, people begin to experience unease, and even revulsion. Plotted as a graph, it showed people’s impressions of the robot steadily rising, before falling into a trough that Mori labeled the “uncanny valley.”
Mori’s concept originated more than half a century ago, yet it feels germane to today’s conversation about Artificial Intelligence and its potential to disrupt the marketing industry as we know it.
AI has been the subject of vigorous debate in recent months, as writing tools like ChatGPT and visualization tools like Midjourney start to make real—and significant—inroads in the creative and ideation process.
Agencies and marketers have put together AI departments to explore its capabilities, attracted by its ability to quickly perform tasks such as research, automation, and annotation, theoretically freeing up their employees to do more important work.
All of their actions are taking place against a backdrop of important questions: Is it safe? Are our competitors using it? Will it replace employees or require more skillsets? How are we going to find time to learn this? Can we use it to publish a blog about how we are at the cutting edge of using it while we figure out how to use it?
The marketing community’s enthusiastic embrace of AI is no surprise. From the printing press, to radio, television, and the myriad forms of digital technology, marketers have always been quick to seize on new forms of communication and technology to provide a competitive advantage in their quest to build brands and sell products.
In many cases, however, their actions were a “reaction” to a new trend or buzzword. Reacting is a common occurrence in our industry, where first mover advantage can lead to a crucial bump in market share for our clients.
But this reactionary approach can also mean that we immediately jump into tactics and make long-term decisions based on short-term insights. This is not only exhausting, but constantly shifting direction can also be expensive.
My advice is that we instead think about how we can “respond” to these new developments. When we respond, we pause to absorb the information we are receiving. More importantly, we wait until emotion subsides. We think about how to leverage existing tools and capabilities, and proceed forward taking advantage of the time, energy, and dollars we have invested so far.
The promise of AI is that it can streamline processes and remove some of the busywork from our day-to-day lives. And while it will continue to evolve, we needn’t overreact worrying about its potential to overhaul everything we know and understand about our industry.
Despite the myriad technological innovations that have reshaped our industry over the past two decades, marketing and advertising remains a quintessentially human endeavor. It is shaped by traits like ingenuity, imagination, empathy and, perhaps most importantly, risk-taking. These are not attributes that can be easily replicated by machines.
It’s vitally important that we remember that, for now at least, the “big idea” thankfully remains the sole domain of humans. AI can indisputably help with some aspect of our profession, but with some careful thought and planning, we needn’t become trapped in the uncanny valley.