Let’s get as excited about human intelligence as we do about AI

John Wittesaele, President, Xaxis EMEA

Xaxis recently completed a research project. Working alongside the IAB, we surveyed business leaders in marketing and advertising to find out what they thought of artificial intelligence (AI).

The results are encouraging. They show an industry that appreciates the importance and the challenge of AI. You can download the report here.

But I’d like to take a short break from talking about AI — or just about AI — and turn instead to human intelligence.  Most respondents to our survey said they were ‘somewhat confident’ in their understanding of AI.

But only 16% of advertisers and 15% of those who worked in agencies said they were ‘very confident’. Just 21% of advertisers and 33% of agencies say they’re using AI to drive growth, which is surely the point of almost everything we do in business. And that matters.

From data, to insights, to outcomes

The advertising industry needs AI. There is no way we can make use of the volume of media inventory or the amount of data available to us without it. With AI, we can identify audience segments, build scaled lookalike audiences based on those segments, then deliver tailored content which we optimise and personalise dynamically while the campaign is running.

It’s exciting. This is a great time to work in advertising. But our industry’s conversation is so focussed on artificial intelligence that we run the risk of neglecting something just as important: human intelligence.

To extract value from data, you need to turn it actionable information; something a business can use to achieve a measurable and positive outcome, whether that’s a rise in online conversion rates, driving footfall to stores, or something else. That’s what we do at Xaxis.

Where’s the talent and why should we care?

For that to happen, you need not just AI but also humans with the right skills, knowledge and experience. At the moment, that mainly means data scientists and analysts as well as planners and creatives comfortable working with data. As an industry, we just can’t get enough of these people — literally.

According to research by IBM, US market demand for data scientists is set to rise by 28% between now and 2020. Unless the supply of qualified candidates is increased, roles will go unfilled. The situation is much the same in Europe. A study by the EU Commission estimates that the continent needs to find 346,000 more data scientists by 2020 if vacancies are not to go unfilled.

In such an environment, brands and agencies will undoubtedly find it hard to track down, recruit and retain the data-talent they need to get the most out of their investments in AI.

What we need to do 

According to a recent report by a London recruitment agency, entry-level data roles are scarce. 45% of the job listings analysed in the study asked for post-graduate degrees and 64% specified previous work experience in data analysis as a requirement.

The same report found that 93% of data jobs offered a salary that was above the UK median — on average, more than double it. If positions are going unfilled now, even at a salary almost twice the national average, what’s it going to be like in a few years when the number of data- AI-related roles has exploded?

There are two logical responses to this skills gap. The first is for advertisers and agencies to find themselves a partner who can provide access to the necessary data expertise.

Skill clusters are a well-known phenomenon in areas such as engineering and software development. They also operate in AI and data-based industries such as programmatic advertising. Find the right adtech partner, and you’ll have access to just such a cluster, giving you the expertise you need to bridge the skills gap.

The second response is a collective one. We need to change the way we think about the talent pipeline, about who would make a good data-scientist or analyst, and about what qualifications and experience we need. If we don’t, in a few years’ time we’ll find ourselves competing with investment banks, software developers and even the space industry for talent that gets more expensive and harder to find all the time.

So, as well as talking about the AI-revolution — which we cover in this report and which we should all be excited by — let’s also start talking about the human intelligence we need to work alongside AI: where we can find enough of it, how we can recruit it into advertising, and how we can retain it.

To find out more about the challenges the AI revolution is going to throw up for advertisers and the ad industry, download our report. It’s free.

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