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AI is the hot topic of discussion now, and it’s understandable for people to wonder just how much of the talk is hype and how much is real. Go to any tech trade show or conference and AI is splashed across every vendor’s product descriptions. Read the news headlines and one would be excused for thinking robots were going to take over the world any minute now.

How much of the hype is real? The easiest way to make this determination is with one question:

“Are you actually doing that?”

When we read an article talking about AI, machine learning, or deep learning, and there’s no demonstration or sample code in the article, the obvious question to pose is whether the person is actually doing the work, practicing what they’re talking about.

The quickest way to differentiate theory from application is to ask about how any given technology is currently used in production.

For example, I was at the MarTech SF conference recently and one of the vendors, Amplero, was making all kinds of claims about how their technology used sophisticated AI to improve marketing automation. When I cornered their CEO and asked what specific technologies they were using, he showed me how they were using scikit-learn’s random forests to winnow down what variables were relevant in lead scoring. Once he showed just a glimpse of the production code (without revealing any of the secret sauce), it was clear they had the goods to back up the talk.

What’s Real in AI for Marketing (for me)

What’s working for me right now, in production? I use three distinct technologies from artificial intelligence and machine learning in my day-to-day work:

  • Natural language processing (NLP). This is machine learning technology built around recognizing and categorizing large bodies of text. For example, I recently did a B2B landscape survey and crunched 750,000 tweets and 25,000 articles with NLP for a client at work. It would have taken me ages to do the same manually. For analyzing text at scale, NLP is the way to go. My favorite technologies for NLP right now are NLTK in Python and IBM Watson Natural Language Understanding.
  • Random forests and dimensionality reduction. These are techniques to help reduce the complexity of a dataset or understand what’s relevant and what’s not. Random forests are especially powerful for marketers who face a deluge of data – out of all the analytics we have, which drive our program objectives? I’ve been working with random forests and dimensionality reduction technologies since mid-2016 and the available software keeps getting easier and better. Lately I’ve been feeding a year’s worth of every marketing data point available and asking the software to tell me what matters in terms of reaching my objectives. The best tools I’ve found in this space revolve around the R project.
  • Speech recognition. Speech recognition is all about taking the spoken word and turning it into text; once in text form, we perform NLP on it. The best services cost pennies or less per recorded minute, and so much value is locked up in non-searchable audio. Think of everything we listen to in marketing – conference calls, speeches, presentations, etc. – and how much of that knowledge is locked away from search. I use speech recognition to turn client calls into transcripts, speeches into blog posts, and so much more. The best tools right now for speech recognition are IBM Watson Speech to Text and Google Cloud Speech API.

You’ll notice that my use cases for AI right now are far, far away from the vision of Terminators and Skynet. AI is helping me solve problems and be more efficient, but in no way is replacing me or my job. Instead, it’s tapping into reserves of data that I didn’t previously have the ability to access, like a gold miner buying their first excavator after only having picks and shovels. It’s making me more valuable by unlocking additional value rather than replacing human value, and that’s likely to continue being the case for the short to medium term future.

If your organization is sitting on data that has untapped potential, then ignore the hype about AI and dive in. Start testing, prototyping, and experimenting with all that unrealized value. Your organization’s future – and your future – depend on it.

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One response to “How to Tell What’s Real and What’s Hype in AI”

  1. […] With all of the hype around AI lately, Christopher Penn ponders: how can you tell what’s real? […]

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