All Play and No Work? Marketing in the Era of Automation

Robot Future

A quick stroll through Reddit is guaranteed to bear interesting fruit. Here, you’ll find the dank memes of tomorrow, a curated look at neighborhood stupidity on Nextdoor, and the internet’s unending devotion to The Office, among other things. Slightly more relevant to this topic, however, is a tale that unfolded on Reddit of a software developer who literally automated himself of a job.  

“I got a job as a software developer working mostly on testing software, so mostly QA work. However I actually had to write some code as well. After around 8 months I had basically automated my own job by writing some programs to do it all for me… From around 6 years ago up until now, I have done nothing at work. I am not joking. For 40 hours each week I go to work, play League of Legends in my office, browse reddit, and do whatever I feel like. In the past 6 years I have maybe done 50 hours of real work. So basically nothing. And nobody really cared. The tests were all running successfully.”

Ideal job scenario, right? Not quite; this enterprising young employee was fired as soon as his boss discovered the automation. To make matters worse, his six years of League of Legends play did not hone his coding skills or adequately prepare him for a job search, so, while he became a legend on Reddit, he also became unemployed.

Another Reddit-famous tale of self-automation has a happier ending. This hotel employee learned to code in his free time, automated his entire workload, and then spent a year helping other departments and growing his skill set before leaving the company for the job of his dreams. His boss — likely thrilled with the prospect of saving money on a new hire — happily accepted his employee’s resignation (which came with the automation code and instruction manual) and offered a great recommendation and severance.

Stories like these abound on the internet, with the protagonists having varying degrees of self-automation success, at least as it pertains to management. This article in The Atlantic covers the range of management reactions to proactive employees, from bosses who recognized and appreciated the ingenuity of self-automation, to those who claimed the intellectual property for the company, fired the employee and replaced them with someone cheaper.

Of course, it’s not just self-automation on the rise. More and more corporations are creating efficiencies and saving money through automation, from factory and manufacturing work to retail and even robot security guards. It remains to be seen whether automation will create a utopian future for humanity, where freedom from menial work allows us more time for high-level pursuits, or if it will be exploited by corporate greed and become the downfall of society as we know it. Fingers crossed for the former!

All this being said, you’re not a factory worker, or a cashier, or a security guard (are you?). You’re (we’re guessing) in the creative field: robots can’t do your job! Or can they? Take the case of Philip Parker, a professor and “the most published author in the history of the planet,” who’s used algorithms and automation scripts to “write” over 200,000 books. While they’ve mostly been technical or medical in nature, Parker now has his sights set on romance novels.

“I’ve already set it up,” he said. “There are only so many body parts.”

And you thought romance was dead.

Even if you’re not a loyal reader of Parker’s books, you’ve likely been reading AI-generated content for years. Companies like Automated Insights and Narrative Science have created programs that harvest data and use natural language generation technology to write stories for the Associated Press, Washington Post, Yahoo!, and more. If you’re reading a financial news story, fantasy football recap, or even a weather forecast, you might notice the byline has been replaced with something like the below.

Writing up a data-driven financial news story is one thing, but how far can this really go? Could we automate the process of writing in advertising? Lexus was willing to give it a go, and recently created a luxury car commercial written entirely by an artificial intelligence. The spot, promoting the new ES model, was scripted after the AI scanned 15 years of Cannes Lion-winning car and luxury ads, emotional intelligence data, and insights into human intuition. The script was brought to life by an Oscar-winning director and while it might not be winning any of its own awards, the ad is sort of mind-blowing to watch when you know how it was written.

So what does it all mean? Is your job safe, or will you come into work one morning, only to find DJ Roomba writing content, HAL 9000 creating a lockup, and Bender managing strategy? The general consensus, especially in marketing and similar creative fields, is that automation won’t take our jobs, but rather work with us to make them easier. Much like the successful, early-adopting Redditor above, we can put automation to use to free ourselves of the minutiae and enrich our work through creativity and, most importantly, human connection.

Featured Photo by Marija Zaric on Unsplash