Technology Director: A Westworld Experience Is Closer Than We Think
Ricky Bacon, Critical Mass Group Technology Director, outlines the ethical and moral questions surrounding artificial intelligence in HBO's Westworld
Last Saturday, I got into a rather excited argument with my four year-old over what music we were going to listen to. The argument started with, “Alexa, play Stevie Ray Vaughn,” to which my son responded, “Alexa, play the Chainsmokers.” That sequence repeated itself until my four year-old won out, because we ain’t ever getting older. Put Closer on a postmodern player-piano and we can transport ourselves to a saloon in Westworld, an anachronistic phenom of a show that outlines some of the coming ethical and moral questions surrounding artificial intelligence.
Westworld exists at an unidentified point in time, but at a time that is likely closer than most of us think. In this world, Hosts, human replicants driven by Artificial Intelligence, are programmed with complex storylines in a theme park where human Guests can come and live out their Wild West fantasies. Although our ability to fabricate Hosts to the level of reality outlined in the show is far off, machine learning and AI is on the cusp of the exponential growth that will make deep conversational interfaces possible.
One of the challenges of creating conversational interfaces is the geometric growth of the decision trees that power the experience. Combining machine learning with novel approaches like Computer Assisted Authoring of Interactive Narratives could provide us with tools that greatly accelerate the rate at which we can develop these interfaces, while dramatically reducing the complexity. This method of collaboration, human/AI symbiosis, is one likely way forward in a world where machines continue to dominate humans in an increasing number of tasks. By amplifying human creativity with machine intelligence, we can create chatbots that provide semi-scripted experiences, so users will have a unique experience with each visit.
In Westworld, the Host Maeve has been programmed to read and manipulate human emotions. Machines being able to read and evoke emotions in people may seem like a futuristic concept, but the field of Affective Computing has been around for decades now. Advances in machine learning and image recognition have allowed facial recognition services, like Google and Microsoft, to have emotion detection baked into their systems. Even more impressive is the announcement that we can now detect emotional responses using WiFi signals. While WiFi routers can’t approach Maeve’s cunning, their presence is more ubiquitous. Interlacing conversational experiences with emotional feedback will create more immersive and engaging experiences. And the use of emotion detection can extend to out-of-home displays to create playful experiences with passers-by.
As we enter the Age of Experience, it’s critical to understand and leverage the amazing array of tools that AI is providing us. As neural networks dream in order to learn faster, teach themselves how to remember and learn to read lips better than we can, how can we weave these technical marvels into more engaging brand experiences? As experiences become the product, can we use these tools to create nonlinear narratives, replacing traditional digital experiences?
Some of the most interesting, and potentially creepy, applications of these technologies will happen when we merge conversational UIs with adaptive learning based on data from vendors like Acxiom and El Toro. Instead of the sledgehammer of retargeting, we can shape a user’s experience with a palette knife, using a combination of AI and segmented behavior analysis. Even better, with the advent of group predictive sentiment analysis, we can custom tailor experiences for users before they know they want them. An objectively formulated, data derived experience, born of machine-driven insights, but tweaked, tuned and tailored by the creativity of humans.
Chatbots are but one tool in the oncoming stampede of machine learning technologies that marketers can use to drive engagement and create compelling experiences. The best marketers will embrace this rapid onslaught of change and emerge from the maze (so to speak) with the knowledge of how to use these technologies to amplify simple brand truths. And the truly brave will question the nature of their reality, creating anticipatory experiences instead of relying on the same old safe bet.
Ricky Bacon is the Group Technology Director for Critical Mass in NYC. He works with some of the world’s largest brands to create engaging digital experiences in an increasingly technically-intertwined world. As well as holding leadership positions at various agencies, Ricky has worked for a number of startups and owned his own consulting company. An inveterate hacker, in his spare time Ricky enjoys playing with molecular gastronomy and building novel devices that connect the digital and physical world.
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