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Is AI All Hype Right Now?

Recently on our podcast we talked about a conversation Tim Peter had with a colleague.  The discussion revolved around AI. Tim was asked an intriguing question.

“Come on. All this AI stuff, when we talk about marketing and all that, that’s all just hype, right?” 

The suggestion was that AI is just not a real thing that matters yet. Maybe it’ll matter someday. But he’s not sure it matters today. He couldn’t be more wrong.

Is AI real, today?

If you don’t have a sense of how big AI is, I suggest you go drive a car. Not just any car, but a brand new car–they are not the same machine as 10 years ago. You don’t have to choose a Tesla, Subaru’s are a great example of how AI is making driving better, safer. 

No, cars aren’t driving themselves just yet. But set the adaptive cruise control. There is a model in there built using machine learning using data about the environment and the capabilities of the vehicle to make driving easier and safer. 

The model is continuously making predictions. It asks “Am I going to hit something? Am I going to hit something? Am I going to hit something?” Continuously. It uses the tools that it has, the levers in the AI machine, to not hit stuff. This is new technology that totally changes the driving experience and is becoming integrated into our daily lives.

No, driving isn’t magical due to AI, but it is getting better. Changes in Martech are evolving in the same way.

The Hype Curve

We’ve seen this struggle with newly developed or emerging technologies before. The classic “hype curve” involves a new technology that leads to inflated expectations about its impact on business. Between vendors, early adopters, and analysts the new thing is soon heralded as the solution to all our problems. 

Once reality kicks in that it won’t solve every problem in the world, we slip into the trough of disillusionment. But as the value in the technology improves, people adjust to more realistic expectations. Soon day-to-day marketing life depends on the technology, regardless of the hype or drop that precedes it. 

So where are we on the hype curve? Many people out there are trying to throw AI at every problem to see what sticks. Many others, like Tim’s associate, are skeptical. They don’t buy that it matters. Or maybe they understand its power, but think it won’t seriously impact business and the bottom line.

Where are we in the AI Hype Cycle?

In 1996 early internet companies were snapping up web developers left and right. That was the moment that you knew the hype curve was strong. Nobody knew what was to come but demand was high for anyone who could help companies take advantage of the emerging technology. It began with the start-ups snapping up skills but it soon expanded to the Fortune 500.

We’re seeing that pattern again. Anyone with “data” in their job title and working knowledge of Python, R, and a few a couple of key libraries can demand top dollar in the marketplace. We are definitely at the beginning of the next Internet. AI is the big thing and as we learned from our Subaru it’s not just hype, it’s real. Well, maybe there is still a bit of hype. But we’re beginning to see real function come out of machine learning models and natural language processing and it isn’t just marketing fluff.

Of course, with the bubble comes the correction. By late ‘99 all of a sudden there were web developers on the sidewalks looking for jobs. We haven’t seen that sort of correction yet for machine learning practitioners so I suspect we’re still riding the hype side of the curve but it’s possible the historical pattern will not repeat itself.

What the hype cycle misses

Scott Brinker points out one of the things that people are constantly forgetting about the hype cycle. It’s that we pay far too much attention to the hype part of the chart. “Indeed, it’s the reality underneath the hype cycle that people lose sight of. Expectations are perception. The actual advancement of the technology (or concept or tactic) is reality.”

Scott’s point is that no matter what the analysts or pundits are saying, real progress is being made in applying AI to the challenges that we face every day as professionals trying to grow our business. 

Some of the progress feels mundane. Subject lines on emails are being optimized. Sales pitches are reworded. Journeys are optimized. But some of it does feel a bit magical and that’s what we have to focus on. What is the practical, measurable magic that we can create today helps progress our business?

The key for practitioners is to sort the hype from the reality. One of the key ways is to press vendors on practical examples of how AI creates better experience than non-AI enhanced options. Don’t settle for tech-babble. Get practical examples. The second way is to be sure that those benefits are observable and measurable. If a vendor stumbles on either of those, they’re probably selling hype, not benefit.

Steve Zakur

With over 20 years of experience in marketing and digital technology, Steve is now CEO of SoloSegment. SoloSegment is a marketing technology company that uses machine learning and natural language processing to improve engagement and conversion for large enterprise, B2B companies.

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