Disruption 2.0: Artificial intelligence versus human emotion

In the 1982 horror classic Poltergeist, sweet little Carol Anne Freeling places her hands on a glowing TV screen and speaks a simple truth—“They’re heeere!”—letting the world know that things are about to change big time in her home sweet home.

Talk about disruption!

Thirty-five years later, digital disruption is a horror movie playing out in real life for many older businesses. I wonder if taxi drivers think, “They’re here!” when an Uber full of millennials goes by? Or if hotel owners say it when they imagine a virtual horde of Airbnb barbarians at somebody else’s gate?

Welcome to the age of disruption. New brands like Uber, Airbnb, Tesla and Square are torpedoing old-school business models and challenging the status quo. Unicorns seem to pop up out of a garage to amass a billion-dollar valuation in a matter of months. Traditional rules of accounting need not apply. Irrational exuberance anyone?

If you’re a consumer, what’s not to love? More choices! More shows! More info! More apps! The only thing missing is more time to make sense of it all.

But, if you’re a brand, especially one that’s been around for a few decades, disruption is terrifying. And there is an equally disturbing flip side to the age of disruption—it’s the age of distraction. Good luck getting through someone’s smartphone forcefield to their nanosecond attention span.

Not to be the grim reaper, but it seems to me that disruption and distraction are—like death and taxes—inevitable realities that humans and brands must face head on.

But wait, there’s more!

Grab some popcorn and get ready to scream, because disruption 2.0 is here. Like a scene from The Terminator, machines are springing to life all around us. Machine learning and artificial intelligence are becoming ubiquitous. With names like Siri, Watson and Alexa, machines are branded so they seem part of the family. Each with their own voice and personality, each burrowing deep into our sub-consciousness while softly whispering, “know me, trust me, buy me!”

Even beyond the devices we all know by name, more and more marketers are using mannerisms and human characteristics to describe machines.

Have you seen Ogilvy & Mather’s new Cisco ad? It’s really well done, and features Peter Dinklage of Game of Thrones strolling through the streets of London contemplating our hyper-connected world. It’s worth a watch.

At the conclusion of the video, Dinklage declares about Cisco’s next gen network: “It’s here—more powerful than intellect, more human, more intuitive than anything that’s come before.”

I found myself staring into my glowing screen and nodding agreement, but then I thought, hey, wait a minute! For something to be intuitive, it has to be alive. It has to have a heart. It has to have feelings. Was I wrong? Had the definition of intuitive changed?

So, I did the modern-day equivalent of looking it up. “Siri, what’s the definition of intuitive?”

Her carefully crafted robotic voice responded: in·tu·i·tive, using or based on what one feels to be true even without conscious reasoning; instinctive.

Based on Siri’s definition of intuitive, I feel I’m right. Cisco’s network can’t be intuitive because it’s not alive. It may feature some of the smartest artificial intelligence on the planet, but it can’t feel if something is right or wrong. It can’t have instincts. It can’t be intuitive. When it comes to being human, I think therefore I am. Machines are programed to think, therefore they ain’t.

But guess what? Old dictionary definitions won’t matter when Siri, Alexa and their band of robotic buddies jump through a screen to disrupt your home or your business.

Every day, millions and millions of machines all over the world are growing into the Internet of Things, talking to each other, hunting and gathering more intelligence about humans, about what we feel and especially about what we buy. And whether we humans like it or not, in the brave new world, it won’t matter if the intelligence is real or artificial. Smart is as smart does when it’s machine versus man.

So how can mere mortals and any business older than an adolescent survive let alone thrive during disruption 2.0?

By becoming more human.

Written by Rick Herrick for CW Magazine.