Tuesday 17 January 2017, Manchester

Is the future of humanity one a benign one where fat lazy humans rely on machines for their every need? Or a hostile one where machines take over the world in a Terminator-esque scenario?

James Murray from Microsoft prefers to see the future of artificial intelligence (AI) as a collaborative rather than combative one, where machines help humans and organisations achieve more in their lives. Some of the evidence he presented was truly startling, from machines beating grandmasters at chess and Go to painting new Rembrandts that can fool art historians or writing poems in the style of Emily Dickinson.

This superbly-delivered presentation left attendees in no doubt that artificial intelligence is going to pervade society in a vast number of ways in the near future. The question for marketers, then, is how to prepare for the rise of AI and take advantage of the opportunities it will bring? While the presentation predominantly stayed at a high future-gazing level, it did give us some pointers on the technologies that would be affecting our businesses first - particularly in the realm of search, Murray’s speciality.

Bots, we were told, will be the next big thing for business, as the best way to have a natural user interface that allows people to undertake any tasks from ordering a coffee to organising a holiday without clicking in and out of different applications.

Voice search is another area marketers need to prepare their businesses for, as by 2020 an estimated 50% of all searches will be conducted by voice. Skype already has a translation feature that allows you to have a conversation with someone in two separate languages, with speech instantly translated so each hears the other in their own tongue.

And visual search, where images you upload can be recognised and identified, is also developing fast.

Machines are probably not about to start a war with the human race. But they are taking over the world – the trick is to future-proof your business so you can take advantage of all the things they will be able do for you.

Written by Ian Morris, Citigate Dewe Rogerson
Regional PR, PM Forum North West