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Robots are real and they may threaten your job

This blog post is part of the #SMWDigitalFuture series leading up to our event on 18 September, ‘States of Digital: Roles of the Future, In-house Structures & Agency Offerings’ as part of Social Media Week London. For more information and to secure your place, please click here.

“Don’t forget to pick up your car from Morden, Michael”. Those were the helpful words from my iPhone last week at the very moment I stepped outside the office. The term PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) has slipped out of use today, but it’s never been more relevant with the current direction of technology. Siri, Cortana, and Google Now are all becoming much smarter; detecting natural language faster, speaking with increased fluency and gradually serving useful roles.

Whilst this technology is helpful, it’s the evolution of digital assistance and machine learning that’s of real interest. It’s a subject that Geoffrey Hinton, a prominent figure at Google’s Deep Learning division has dedicated his life’s work to; the challenge of getting computers to write their own algorithms based on learning from observations.

This space can be broadly broken down into the following categories (research document here):

  • Supervised learning: A computer learning from user interactions, such as detecting spam email;
  • Unsupervised learning: A computer discovering data patterns without user interaction. This is used in social media network mapping;
  • Reinforcement learning: A computer learning to play chess through understanding winning or losing algorithms.


I had to tell Siri to set a reminder that I needed to collect my car… but what if Siri observed that I drove and parked my car at Morden, detected that I had left the parameter of the office in the evening, then knew from my personality that she should issue a reminder that I need to collect the car after work. This technology is so close to mainstream use and is arguably a form of artificial intelligence.

A similar form of deep learning is now beginning to challenge job roles in journalism and public relations through the automation of content. Robots are now writing their own news stories, with the Associated Press having signed up to Automated Insights, a platform that automates the publication of financial news stories.

“Minutes after Apple released its record-breaking quarterly earnings this week, the Associated Press published (by way of CNBC, Yahoo and others) “Apple tops Street 1Q forecasts.” It’s a story without a byline, or rather, without a human byline — a financial story written and published by an automated system well-versed in the AP Style Guide.”

There are only a few short steps between having a helpful digital assistant and developing a technology that could rival your job. Think about the everyday tasks you commit as routine with little thought; these are likely to be the tasks at immediate threat from machine learning, from robots.

The unavoidable truth is that the rate of evolution across digital practice areas means the entire UK faces an unknown skills shortage. Who knew there was ever going to be a need for 3D printing experts or automated journalism engineers?

Over a three year university course some of the skills taught may become irrelevant on graduation. The traditional marketing mix needs a major review because new technologies such as automation are gradually rendering it ineffective. As mentioned by my colleague Russ Graham in a recent blog post, “Organisations with data-driven marketing strategies are shying away from expensive, old-school advertising methods.”

Robots are now real, they are writing news stories and they could threaten your job. How do you feel about the future of digital? Debate it with us at our Social Media Week London event on the 18 September or tweet us using the hashtag #SMWDigitalFuture.

Find out more about Lansons’ digital and social media services here.