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Understanding the Disruptors, the Technologies, and the Possibilities

By Rishad Tobaccowala, Strategy and Growth Officer, Publicis Groupe

More, deeper, better data

When it comes to big data, we can see that it has grown exponentially in the past few years; it’s one of the most important priorities for businesses today, and it will only continue to grow in importance in the future. And interestingly, it’s one of the reasons why AI and immersive experiences are possible; all three are connected.

Over the last few years, three key things have happened:

  • The first is that there are more and more ways now to capture data – mobile phones have become an indispensable part of people’s lives, more and more devices have computers in them, and cars these days are really computers on wheels. What this means is that there is now a large amount of data, more than we’ve ever had.
  • Secondly, it’s cheaper than ever before, to store this data and to compute this data – storage because of cloud storage services like Amazon Web Services and computing because computing power keeps increasing; today’s mobile phones have twice the processing power of a space shuttle, so it’s pretty significant.
  • Lastly, over time, there’s been a breakthrough in what is called natural language and other processing; so it’s akin to deep learning, which is the ability for data to almost write a whole software, which is what AI essentially is.

New interfaces for broader interactions

So you have new algorithms, lot of storage and technology, and lot of data. And all of these are very cheap and accessible to the cloud.

What that basically is doing, is it’s allowing increasingly new forms of interface. We originally saw the visual graphic interface like MAC, Windows, and now we’re seeing the interface of touch, the interface of voice. And that’s only the beginning.

At the Facebook F8 Conference, there was a conversation about how our minds could type, and Facebook is working on that idea. All of these new interfaces make it much more natural for us to communicate and engage in new ways.

Welcome to the age of “Empathy Machines”

All this processing power and mobile technology is aligned for three types of immersive experiences: Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality.

  • Virtual Reality is everywhere: even film festivals are talking VR – last April, the Tribeca Film Festival, for the first time this year, has launched Virtual Reality movies. With Virtual Reality, you act on your own – you’re transporting yourself mentally to a place by yourself (no friends, no interaction with the outside world) but it also lets you experience it, almost like you’re there. So in many ways, it is an empathy machine.
  • The case with Augmented Reality is that you have the real world, and then you sort of superimpose it on different things. And the nice thing about Augmented Reality, is you can connect with people and you can feel the real world. Augmented Reality is almost like having real-time superpowers.
  • Mixed Reality isn’t as popular yet, but there are companies who’re exploring Mixed Reality – basically have things from the real world and virtual world interact together.

Towards the next level for Engagement and Storytelling

The interesting thing for immersive experiences, is that it will allow people to communicate in new ways, it will allow our clients to engage in new ways, and it will allow us to tell stories in new ways. And increasingly, this shift is going to be led first with photographs, then video, and eventually other forms of media.

Now with AI – there’s a lot of potential here. There are multiple things being done in the AI space, but the two biggest and most exciting developments in AI at the moment are predictive modeling and virtual agents.

  • Predictive modeling will make it easier than ever to anticipate what people want before they want it. Netflix, for instance, uses predictive modeling quite well. When you watch Netflix, your recommendations are customized via predictive modeling: your viewing history is compared to that of other people with similar viewing habits, which makes it possible to create customized recommendations for you. Predictive modeling is truly one of the best things AI has made possible.
  • As for virtual agents like chatbots – they will also bring about a new kind of interface, which will essentially be man vs. machine. Instead of talking to a live person, you interact with a machine that anticipates what you want.

Clearly, predictive modeling and virtual agents, together with dynamic content, are going to be game changing.

A tough, Darwinian and costly competition ahead

There are lots of candidates, but only big players will win.

It’s going to be beyond GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon), but there will be a limitation, and the reason is, both big data and AI require lots and lots of data, and it requires lots and lots of investment. To employ AI scientists and data scientists is an extremely expensive undertaking. So I anticipate that in addition to GAFA, others who’re likely to be big players will be Microsoft and IBM – IBM, with its Watson and machine learning, looks extremely promising.

Coming out of China, we anticipate Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent and then potentially new players like Magic Leap, if they succeed. So when it comes down to it, you need lots of data, investment, and long timelines. The total investment in R&D, for instance, that GAFA + Microsoft makes is greater than the revenue of all the holding companies. To challenge that will be a herculean task for other small players.

Accelerating the move from Public Relations to People Relations

With other things, Influencer marketing will transform, as well: with time, you’ll be able to identify which individuals are likely to be most influential. If you collaborate with say, five of them, and predict what will appeal to them, you can create very interesting content.

  • There are a few things that one has to expect I think in the PR world:
    The first question is: how are people going to react when they interact with an agent for a company that’s partly a machine and partly a person? The idea of how employees today behave is very different for a PR company. So what happens when some of your employees are machines?
  • Secondly, these machines are also in themselves going to be influencers because they’re talking to you, they’re recommending things to you, and they’re responding to you. So how do we have influential programs that are built around machines as well?
  • Lastly, in PR, one of the key things we’re trying to do is obviously gaining advocacy, and changing thoughts and opinions. The ability to show how a company is helping people, how a company is changing the environment, and instead of just talking about it, actually immersing people will be of immense help in being influential and changing opinions.

This article is a part of “PR 2020 The Dawn of the Augmented Influence” published by MSL’s People’s Insights team that covers the latest trends in engagement on both the consumer and corporate side.

A close adviser to Maurice Lévy, a thought-leader and a very respected expert in the digital transformation area, Rishad Tobaccowala is the Strategy and Growth Officer and a Member of the Board at Publicis Groupe. Previously he was also the Chairman of DigitasLBi and Razorfish, two Publicis Groupe’s global firms with over 10,000 employees.
@rishad | rishad.tobaccowala@publicisgroupe.com

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