F**K You Algorithm!

Does your company director doubt your strategy? Explain to him that it was created by a MIT issued big data crunching algorithm. Do you wish to boost the value of your startup? Make them believe that an algorithm developed by Russian mathematicians pilots it.  Do you want to hook-up with your neighbor? Tell them that you are a data scientist working on the optimization of the tinder algorithm. The algorithm has become the ultimate in trendiness. It has positioned itself on the horizon as an indispensible. Tomorrow a machine will probably replace the strategic planner, a task-scheduling algorithm the project manager…with the coming of the Chinese we were stripped of industrial jobs, now the algorithm is here, lurking silently in the shadows. The colonization of marketing by algorithm seems inevitable.

Prepare yourself comrade; the algorithm wants to steal your job!

This is not only a pessimist and naïve vision of the future but an absolute misunderstanding of what IT is in general and what is an algorithm in particular.

Just like the case between the Chinese worker and the European worker who fought for the same task; the human and the algorithm, when coupled with the computer, are not in competition with each other. They do not have the same needs or the same capabilities.

A computer is numeric where as a brain is analogic. The computer is binary; it emits signals in zeros and ones. On the other hand our neurons emit signals in a great variety of models. The algorithm “is a finite and unambiguous result of operations or instructions to solve a problem” where as the human knows his way around irrational ground.

A computer would be very efficient at executing repetitive procedures or at performing automatic calculations but completely incompetent at understanding emotions or at managing illogical situations. A human on the other hand performs poorly at indefinite repetitions, calculations, or storing information but can rapidly comprehend concepts, analyze sentiments and take decisions based on heterogeneous information.

You have a doubt about that?

Take a pretty basic computer and command it to play a game. A game that requires the computer to calculate the best way to move pieces across a board with very clearly defined rules and absolutely no value given to an emotional computation.

And you will see that the computer will very easily and without using much of its capacity, be able to beat Garry Kasparov, the greatest chess grand master of all time.

Now, demand Google to identify an image. It is something that Google tried in 2012. The team connected 1000 servers with a combined capacity of 16,000 processors. For two days the system went through close to 10 million videos on YouTube. At the end of this experiment Google triumphantly announced that it could recognize a cat 75% of the times!

Put another way, a computer works wonders at beating Garry Kasparov at chess but while utilizing all its capacity it performs lower than a 3 year old in recognizing a cat.

Would you entrust your marketing plans to an autistic capable of beating a grand master at chess but incapable of recognizing a cat? This is exactly what zealots of the method-applied algorithm for seeking insights are about to do! If Google can hardly recognize a cat can you imagine it being able to comprehend the complexity that brand preference is based on and be able to make creative leaps?

The thing that the zealots of algorithm are not able to comprehend is that marketing is different from logistics. Marketing is not a cold science. The aim is not to optimize the transportation of an object but to interact with and engage in a relationship with humans.

The consumers, unlike a machine, are ambiguous and complex. They have sentiments that compel them to love or to hate a brand in an irrational way. And it is this precise capability to manage emotions, to transcend the usage value of a product, to generate an additional value that makes the brain superior to machines.

The reality is, that the world of marketing will not be dominated by an algorithm but by the complementarity of the human-machine pairing. We will delegate to the machine that what it does better that us: track, without bias, the data and perform simple automated tasks.

The algorithm fabricates beautiful dashboards for us to understand where the brand stands, how to set the best possible price that is acceptable for the consumer or for that matter how to create an efficient media mix. The human conceives the products and the campaigns; he creates the unbelievable user experiences. It’s the humans’ brain that flows with ideas that define the brand universe. It’s them who subjectively arbitrate effective actions.

The human, certainly better equipped, remains the master.


Written By: Bruno Walther for L'ADN January - March 2015 Issue Bruno Walther is the CEO & Co-Founder at Captain Dash.  You can reach him on Twitter @brunowalther .