If you’re a regular reader here at Grok, you already know that FutureNow’s Persuasion Architecture methodology hinges on our ability to understand and predict the human behaviors surrounding decision-making, and develop business applications that allow us to apply that knowledge to your website and marketing efforts. Many of the prospects I’ve talked to over the years thought we did this through technology, such as dynamically displayed information. But we don’t. A key component of how we gain insight, form hypotheses, and drive continuous improvement, is still good, old-fashioned, human critical thinking skills. Yes, we use tools like Google Analytics to collect real-time information about what people do on your site, and we use tools like OnTarget to manage our efforts and their effect on your site, but it’s not a 100% technological solution you plug in and walk away from… ultimately it’s our trained professionals analyzing the data for patterns or insight, and guiding the process, and you implementing what they recommend.
Still, these prospects and their assumptions got me thinking. Could we ever face a 100% technological solution? Would it be possible that someday we’d be able to have applications or programs that run behind your website, collecting and analyzing information about what people do, making predictions about what they need and dynamically displaying the required information, and then re-analyzing and refining the information based on how they react? In theory, I knew it was possible. I knew it was a “simple” matter of math… of developing statistical models for predicting human behavior patterns, and then programming them into your website. Yes, when I say “simple” I jest. In my previous life as a project manager for cancer research projects, I had seen my highly educated bosses struggling to develop models for predicting a patient’s health care choices; I knew my uncle was part of a team that developed a mathematical model for predicting hurricane behavior and landfall… and that his team had been working on the model for over 20 years; and I watched my brother – a guy who reads chemistry textbooks and says things like “that makes perfect sense” – slowly lose his sanity trying to develop mathematical models for his thesis. Mathematical models that predict outcomes in an ever-changing system of variables are far from “simple.” Human behavior in the context of the ever-changing technology of the internet would be just that kind of system.
And then there was Watson. Watson is the IBM computer that beat two of Jeopary’s best contestants in a February 2011 man-vs-computer showdown. I watched NOVA’s Smartest Machine on Earth prior to the actual showdown. It revealed some of the challenges the team had to overcome in their quest to develop a machine capable of imitating human thought. While Watson did exhibit some problems with things such as gender, puns, and other subtleties of language, he eventually managed to overcome them to win the showdown. And from what I understand, Watson even got a job out of it: I read in the newspaper that Columbia Medical Center was going to “hire” Watson to help with patient diagnosis and treatment. Surely, if Watson can save lives, he can help inspire your prospects to take action on your website!
But one of the most interesting things about the NOVA episode as far as I was concerned, was the divergent opinions of academics about whether or not human intelligence actually can be imitated, and more importantly, bested. Sure, Watson looks simple on the surface, but he has one heck of a complex system behind him. And it took years for the team at IBM to prefect him to the point where he could be a contender on Jeopardy! Stephen Baker’s Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything provides a history of Watson, in addition to thoughts on the subject of artificial intelligence. While Baker recognizes that technology is heading the way of Watson, and proposes that machines such as Watson will become a part of our everyday lives, he does couch this with “Our brains are still the most intricate, complex and brilliant thinking machines on earth. But we have to figure out how to use them in concert with the machinery we’re building.”
Pop culture plays with this idea in movies such as The Matrix, and I, Robot. So, what do you think? Will Watson or his baby brother one day make the likes of Bryan Eisenberg, Avinash Kaushik and Tim Ash obsolete? Or is the human capability for understanding and interpreting far too complex to be imitated? Add your 2 cents to the discussion.