12 things we learnt about AI at Engage 2023

Posted on: Friday 26 May 2023 | IAB UK

Our flagship event returned to The Londoner to delve into the digital ad industry's must-knows around AI. Catch up on the most crucial takeaways from this year's event

“The pace of change is incredible”, said Jon Mew, CEO of IAB UK, opening Engage 2023 - a morning all about artificial intelligence. Jon’s advice on how to embrace AI in a balanced way is threefold: take a big step back to consider the ways AI could affect your business; don’t leave it too late to start experimenting with AI, even if it is hard to get your head around; and, instead of thinking in terms of me vs AI, think about me + AI. 


Jon Mew opening Engage 2023


With speakers including OMG’s Phil Rowley, Futurist Adah Parris and best-selling author Bruce Daisley, here are some of the key things we learnt: 

1. Even though it feels like it, AI hasn’t happened over night

While the hype around AI since the launch of Chat GPT makes it feel like artificial intelligence is brand new, “it hasn’t happened overnight”, explained Contagious’ Senior Strategist David Beresford. Going as far back as Alan Turing’s work in the 1940s, David explained how we’re seeing a shift from analytical AI to generative AI - with the latter set to impact different industries from medicine to advertising. Rather than worrying about AI taking your job, you should be thinking about the person who knows how to use AI taking your job. 

2. We need to use AI with consciousness

“Technology exists on a spectrum,” explained AI Ethicist Olivia Gambelin, and the differences between the worst case scenario and the best rests on our ability to “use ethics as a decision making tool for innovation”. In order to build trust in a world where people are constantly questioning what’s real and what’s AI generated, Olivia said that “we need to use generative AI with consciousness”, act on human values, and “keep trust at the forefront of your mind”. 

3. Synthetic friends might become a reality 

Emma Chiu, Global Director, Wunderman Thompson Intelligence, focused on how “our physical and digital identities are blurring”, with over half of people asked in the UK, US and China saying that they feel more able to be their true selves in the digital world. While the growth of AI is already being used by brands to create virtual ambassadors - such as Nestlé Toll House’s Cookie Coach - Emma also highlighted what we might see in the future, such as the emergence of synthetic friends or even AI babies. 


Emma Chiu speaking at Engage


4. AI should be seen as a tool and a partner 

Both Microsoft’s James Murray and Google’s Dorothea Wiesmann used their sessions to spotlight how AI is revolutionising search into a more conversational process. It’s about employing AI to show “the right message to the right person in the right context” explained Dorothea who added that we’re at an AI inflection point which will upend how we use technology to search, shop and create. As James put it, the aim of AI shouldn’t just be to “free you up to be more creative, but to make you a better creative”. 

5. From a regulatory perspective, the UK’s position is pro-innovation 

At the moment, the UK Government is taking a pro-innovation approach to AI regulation explained Isabel Davies, an Associate at Wiggin LLP, with no new laws being introduced for the time being. However, Isabel stressed that there is a lot of uncertainty about what guardrails might be needed in the future and she urged companies to get ahead of the curve by only working with AI partners you know and trust, understanding what governance structures they have in place and, internally, training staff to use it in a compliant way. 

6. We need to master a new creative vocabulary

Artificial Intelligence can - and already is - democratising creativity, explained James Chandler, IAB UK’s CMO, who demonstrated how AI tools such as DALL.E and Midjourney can be used to push the boundaries of our imagination. In order to realise the potential of these tools, marketers need to be versed in how to prompt them to deliver the best results - in short, “learn a new creative vocabulary”. He also said that AI thrives creatively when we apply it outside of the limits of what we can ordinarily do. 


James Chandler speaking at Engage


7. AI could enhance work culture 

We all know that AI stands to boost productivity at work, but it could also improve our work culture, according to best-selling author Bruce Daisley. “Tea breaks are where culture is created”, Bruce said, so if AI has the ability to free up some of our working hours we can reinvest that time to “create more gaps” where work culture can grow. 

8. Our idea of what AI creators look like is unhelpful 

Busting 10 myths in 10 minutes, Dr Eleanor Drage, researcher at the University of Cambridge Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence and host of The Good Robot Podcast, shattered some of our preconceived ideas about AI. As she put it, the popular representation of AI creators as men building aggressive or hyper-sexualised AIs is “overworked and unhelpful”. Similarly, “the militarisation of AI as akin to The Terminator is a problem - if we keep talking about it then we will build it”. 

9. AI won’t kill the radio star 

In a session hosted by Bauer, delegates heard more about how the new technology is advancing audio. According to Paul Sylvester, Content Director at Absolute Radio Network, “AI won’t kill the radio star but it will help make radio content live beyond the traditional time bands of radio shows”. Shana Hills, Chief Product and Platforms Officer at Bauer Media Audio, echoed this: “Being human centered is [radio’s] superpower and we can’t forget that.”  


Multiple speakers onstage


10. It can make your ad campaigns more effective - today

While a lot of the discussion about AI focuses on what it could do in the future, it is already an embedded part of digital advertising. TikTok’s Measurement Lead, Matt Rooney, and Kantar’s Head of Media, Hannah Walley, debuted how Kantar’s LinkAI tool analysed 4,000 ads on the platform to establish what factors perform best - from sound to how much text is used and when. Product demonstration increases user purchase intention by almost 50% and, if a video has a “TikTok look and feel”, it receives double the engagement vs TV style creative on the platform.

11. We should think of AI as a living system 

Tech futurist Adah Parris believes we need to “embrace AI technology as relational ecology”, shift away from binary thinking which tends to set humans apart from nature, and think of AI as a living system that is already connected to us. Current Large Language Models are built on processes that are 20-30 years old, so they have years of biases built in. To change that, she said we need to take responsibility for the fact that how we’re developing AI is “borrowing from the future” and break away from centuries of established thinking that has cast humans as in charge of nature. 

12. A Matrix-style scenario is very unlikely 

Wrapping up the event, OMG’s Head of Futures Phil Rowley looked at what five sci-fi films can reveal about what will and won’t happen next. He said that a Matrix-style scenario where AI takes over the world and enslaves humans is highly unlikely because humans set AI’s goals and “if there are no humans to produce data, there won’t be any data for AI to crunch”. Minority Report - which sees Tom Cruise bombarded with personalised marketing - is also unlikely as intrusive tracking won’t be allowed, but the potential for highly interactive media experiences is very likely. A Bladerunner-esq scenario where humans and AI technology merge is also likely according to Phil: “We will need to be unionised with AI to get the best of it.” 


Phil Rowley speaking at Engage 2023


Finally, thank you to our Engage 2023 sponsors Google, Nano Interactive and Quantcast. You can read thought-leadership pieces from each of them here.

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