We don’t need to wait for the singularity before artificial intelligence becomes capable of turning the world into a dystopian nightmare. AI-branded algorithms are already serving up new portions of fresh hell on a regular basis. But instead of worrying about run-away computers, we should be worrying about the entrepreneurs that feed them the algorithms, and the consumers who mindlessly execute them.
It’s not that Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, et al are wrong to ponder whether Skynet might one day decide that humankind is a bug in the code of the universe that should be eliminated. In much the same way that evangelicals aren’t necessarily wrong to believe that the rapture will at some point prove the end of history. Having faith in supernatural stories about vengeful deities condemning us all to an eternity of misery is a bedrock pastime since the cognitive revolution. Precisely because there’s no scope for refuting such a story today.
It’s just that such a preoccupation with the possible calamities of tomorrow might distract us from dealing with the actual disasters of today. And algorithmic disasters are not only already here, but growing in scale, impact, and regularity.
A growing body of work is taking the algorithms of social media to task for optimizing for addiction and despair. Whipping its users into the highest possible state of frenzy, anxiety, and envy. Because that’s the deepest well of engagement to draw from.
Oh the promise of sophisticated analytics and artificial intelligence to automatically send current and potential customers the exact right email at the exact right time to get them to buy more things.
I just perused a food delivery service this week and started the signup process before abandoning. The robots dutifully sent me follow-ups with coupons and welcome messages to convince me to become a customer.
It’s no doubt effective when it’s done right. But I think it blinds most people trying to market their business to something even more important.
Do you drink coffee? I bet you do. Afterall, 83% of the adult population does.
It’s no wonder we do. Apart from being addictive it’s also convenient and it’s customized. Coffee historians call these the waves of coffee.
Before 1850 people were grinding and roasting coffee themselves. The first wave was Folgers in a can; the second wave was Starbucks. You could now get coffee anyway you wanted and it was in itself a destination.
So what’s the third wave of coffee? You go to a third wave coffee house like Stumptown or Intelligentsia, and there’s a good chance you can meet a coffee farmer walking around sampling their latest harvest. You can sign up for classes with your favorite barista. Come in once a week, and they’ll name your favorite drink after you.
The third wave is all about making a deep and personal connection with your customers.
The funny thing about these three waves is that once you understand them, you see them everywhere. Beer. Baking. Even carpentry. Watch any reality shows about a family building houses?
One example that caught my eye recently was a young girl who had an early talent for music. Her family wanted to give her every chance to further her career, so they moved from Philadelphia to Nashville in 2003. Things didn’t take off immediately. But after a couple years, someone discovered our musician singing in a cafe and soon signed her up for her first record deal.
She took off. She can sell out crowds instantly now.
But the thing I’m most impressed about is her understanding of how music has evolved. Just like coffee. Music used to be hard to listen to. You’d have to expensively and inconveniently attend an event somewhere.
Until the phonograph was invented. That was music’s first wave. Music became convenient. You could buy something and listen to it in your home.
Radio was the second wave. Now you could have music everywhere and pick and choose the stations you wanted. Complete customization.
But where’s the third wave?
If you go to our young musicians YouTube channel, you can find a video of her celebrating Christmas. But it’s not with her family, it’s with her fans. She painstakingly wraps present after present. Her apartment is a complete mess of boxes, wrapping paper, and bubble wrap. And then she proceeds to not only ship these packages to her fans, but she delivers them herself, surprising people who thought they were waiting for some random UPS driver.
Her fans are ecstatic. Everyone’s screaming and crying. You don’t have to be one of these young fans to have the heartwarming feelings roll over you too.
This young musician epitomizes the third wave of music. We’ve evolved from convenience and customization to now wanting personal connections with the artists who matter to us. It’s not just about getting a signature. We want to talk to them on social media. Watch the behind the scenes of their lives. Get them to read our Tweets or comment on our Instas.
My daughter was extra special the other day coming home from school and I wanted to surprise her with a treat. There’s a bakery we go by that has macarons, her favorite. But we passed the place up. Why?
Because there’s another bakery a bit further away, whose owners, a mom and her talented baker of a daughter, have become friends of ours. They tell us about their lives and struggles, and we share ours.
They didn’t have to blast me with email or laser targeted artificial intelligence campaigns. They just needed to be human. And it won our loyalty and repeat business.
Our young musician hasn’t lost her touch with this even a few years after that Christmas video. Even just this past week, she had 500 fans over to her home in Rhode Island for private listening parties of her newest album. And this past week as I write this, Taylor Swift released her latest, Reputation.
And truth be told, I still haven’t become a customer of that food delivery service despite the robo emails. But I own all of Taylor Swift’s work.